Unbound Sponsorship: Lifting The Pebbles

When I saw this Hopi proverb on Twitter recently, it immediately evoked memories of the time I spent earlier this month in El Salvador on the Unbound Blogger Trip.  Of mothers and fathers who, because of Unbound sponsorship, knew that their child could go to school. Of mothers who held one another accountable in “solidarity groups,” where women learned skills that would help them support their children. Of aging people such as blogger Ali Ebright’s sponsored individual, Josefa, who can now be assured of sufficient food, adequate shelter, and community support.

Christopher and Silvia both live in El Salvador, and need to be lifted up by the support of Unbound sponsorship.

unbound three

Christopher, Age 4

Christopher has been waiting for Unbound sponsorship since June 2013. His mother and father both work very hard to provide for him, but their incomes are not consistent enough to ensure that he receives the benefits sponsorship can give, such as nutrition, health, clothing, and (when he is old enough) education.

Silvia, Age 21

Silvia, Age 22

Silvia is a 22 year old woman with special needs (she has had epilepsy since birth). She was sponsored for three years but her sponsor left the program. [Note: she has continued to receive her benefits through a contingency fund but she would thrive off of a relationship with a sponsor.] She lives in a 7-person home; this family subsists on $60.00 a month. She loves to play with toy cars. I would love to know she can get the most basic needs of food, health, and shelter met.

Sponsorship demonstrates Christ’s presence.

I recently read an article written by Rev. Kyle Smith, who is preparing to be a priest. He talked about how, when he elevates the chalice, “My thought and prayer … is … ‘Wow, who am I to be this close to Christ present in the Eucharist?'” He goes on to look forward to his priesthood, and “how more powerful an experience it will be to say the words that call down the Holy Spirit and make Christ present.” In my experience as a sponsor, and in every interaction I had during the Unbound Blogger trip, Christ was made present in tangible, daily ways even though we were not in a formal place of worship.

Christopher and Silvia are like the Hopi’s pebble … it is going to take more than one “finger” to lift them. They need their families; they need (and have) a God who loves them. Ultimately, they need someone to help lift them through the support of sponsorship.

For more information on sponsoring Christopher or Silvia (a $30 a month commitment), please visit this link. If you are not prepared to sponsor right now, please know that your prayers are powerful, as is your willingness to share information about the work of Unbound among people you know.

***UPDATE*** Silvia has been sponsored (as of 7/2/14). I am so happy to hear this and grateful to whoever sponsored her! If you are interested in sponsoring someone else, please follow this link. ***

It is not just Christopher or Silvia who will be lifted by Unbound sponsorship. Whoever sponsors them will also discover their heart soaring to new heights.

One of our sponsored children, Stanley, who lives in El Salvador.

One of our sponsored children, Stanley, who lives in El Salvador.

unbound one

Milaap: Self Reliance Through Entrepreneurship

“Poverty-stricken” is a term many of us use to describe people who do not have enough resources to survive. Milaap helps poverty-stricken people in India increase self reliance through a microloan program. I am especially fond of the “Hope Project,” which helps former devadasis (the devadasi system started as female dancers and courtesans in Hindu temples but in modern times has resulted in women being stuck in a cycle of prostitution). This is where I would argue that poverty hasn’t struck but rather it has pervaded generations of society and entrapped these women within subterranean roots of illiteracy, maltreatment, and single parenthood (in many cases) that will not release their grip and allow their self reliance to flourish.

Milaap’s microloan system is explained very thoroughly here.

Milaap gives hope to women like Kasturi.

Kasturi Avale

Kasturi Avale

One of my first Milaap loans of $25 was to Kasturi Avale and two other former devadasi women who obtained a loan of Rs.60,000 (about $1,000) to expand their buffalo rearing businesses. The efforts of Kasturi and her peers will give more women the opportunity to break free of a system that has been unjust to women for centuries.

You can help Milaap give hope.

For four years, Milaap has been doing this life-changing work. In addition to wishing them a happy birthday, I want to share with you how you can get involved and invite you to share this effective, transparent, reliable model with others.

For you more visual learners, here’s the Milaap story in a quick infographic:

 photo milaapinfographic_zps34fc176a.jpg

For information on Milaap in general, visit this link.  For information about the project that is targeted to former Devadasis (the Hope Project), visit this link.

If my explanation was so crystal clear and compelling that you feel ready to give, visit my personal link here. (I have a goal of $250; loans of any amount, starting at $25, are gratefully accepted and will be directed to the Hope project and former devadasis!).

Before agreeing to be a Milaap “Champion of Hope,” I asked myself if I was diluting my commitments to other organizations who do similar microloan projects. Ultimately, I decided that people have differing and very personal reasons for choosing the causes to which they commit, and Milaap deserves an opportunity to share space on my blog and in my heart. Rest assured if you hear about a cause from me in this space, it is one I endorse wholeheartedly.

For women like this ...

For women like this …

Breaking Free of the Hunger Cocoon (A Feeding South Africa Post)

Source: www.morguefile.com

Source: www.morguefile.com

Do cocoons make you curious about what’s inside? What color will the butterfly be when it emerges? Where will the winds and its wings take it? Will it bring someone joy?

For children in South Africa, hunger threatens to keep them in the “cocoon” of hunger.

65% of all South African children live in poverty. Receiving food encourages these children to stay in school and obtain their education.

When children are unable to stay in school and obtain an education, it is unlikely they will emerge from the cocoon of hunger.

Nearly 20% of all children in South Africa are orphans, with approximately 1.9 Million of those children orphaned as a result of HIV and AIDS.

In addition to the absence of parental support, these orphans are more likely to remain trapped in the cocoon of hunger.

Lack of food can diminish concentration, erode willpower, and strip away a child’s potential. The conservative estimate of the number of children in South Africa living below the poverty line is 12 million.

Although government programs assist approximately 8 million of these children, 4 million children still need help to emerge from the cocoon of hunger.

African Basket

African Basket

Although my teenagers no longer want my input or involvement in their lunch choices, I remember well the challenge of finding something nutritious, novel, and affordable for their lunches. We bloggers participating in this campaign are each contributing a recipe. Mine comes from Ellie Krieger of the Food Network. It’s colorful, tasty, and affordable (and it has a great name!).

Rainbows and Butterflies Pasta Salad


8 ounces bow tie pasta, preferably whole grain

3 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil

1 cup corn kernels, thawed if frozen

1 cup shelled edamame, thawed if frozen

1 medium red bell pepper, diced

2 medium carrots, shredded (about 1/2 cup)

1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese (about 1 ounce)


cropped ingredients


Cook the pasta as the label directs. Drain and toss with 1 teaspoon olive oil to prevent sticking; let cool.

In a large bowl, toss the cooled pasta with the corn, edamame, bell pepper and carrots. Drizzle with the remaining 3 tablespoons olive oil and toss to coat. Add the parmesan and 1/4 teaspoon salt; toss again and season to taste.

plated pasta

Besides thinking about sending rainbows and butterflies in your child’s lunch (or yours, as I’ll be doing this week!), what can you and I do about the 4 million children in South Africa for whom a “colorful pasta salad” would truly be a luxury?

Lunchbox Fund Photo 3

We can help The Lunchbox Fund meet its goal of raising $5,000, which will provide 100 South African school children a daily meal for one year. (The meals are provided at school, which reinforces the likelihood that the children will go to school.) But $5,000 sounds *BIG* doesn’t it? I gave $10; if 499 more people do the same, we’ll be there! For me it was giving up the $10 I would have spent on yoga today and doing yoga at home instead. A small sacrifice in the long run.

To donate, click this link.

There’s no reason that those of us who have so much can come together to help children who need the basic gift of food and help them fly free from poverty.


 *Note: The factual information in italics was provided by The Giving Table.

Helping Those in Poverty Blossom, An Advent Devotional

Each year, the parishioners of Holy Comforter create an advent reflections booklet composed of their own contributions. This is mine, used for December 18, 2013.

For he delivers the needy when they call, the poor and those who have no helper.

He has pity on the weak and the needy, and saves the lives of the needy.

From oppression and violence he redeems their life; and precious is their blood in his sight. (Psalms 72: 12-14)

Bob Hentzen

Bob Hentzen

On October 8 of this year, Bob Hentzen passed away from natural causes. I had the blessing of spending a week with Bob when Tenley and I went to Guatemala as part of a Christian Foundation for Children and Aging Mission Awareness Trip in July 2011.

As I read the psalm for today’s reading, I couldn’t help reflecting on Bob’s approach to helping people who live in poverty.

Before our trip to Guatemala, I had possessed a vague idea of the ways in which CFCA helped the “lives of the needy.” Our extended family had given $30 a month for years to help our sponsored child, Silvia, and her family have access to education, food, health care, and shelter.

Although the trip involved the incredible highlight of meeting Silvia, it involved so much more. The most eye-opening parts were when we were able to visit the homes of families being helped by CFCA. I had never seen residences that appeared so vulnerable to weather, so rudimentary from the standpoint of plumbing and waste management, so different from our orderly neighborhoods here in the U.S.

“Electricity” meant one light bulb hanging from a cord. When a homeowner was asked why she did not have the light on, she explained “it’s too hot.” I don’t know if the real issue was that she was ultra conservative about the use of power, or if she truly felt it was “too hot.” No use of resources happened without deliberation.

In addition to the tours of homes, we watched presentations about various ways in which people were given help in learning to make a living. We met women who had learned a skill, gone on to use that skill to support their families, and completed the circle by teaching other women to do the same thing. To see a woman empowered with the ability to rely on herself in order to feed and educate her children was to see a “dawn” of a new and improved life for that woman.

Carolyn Zimmerman, of Topeka, Kansas, said this about Bob after his death: “His steps and his life took him throughout the world, where he connected families across the divides of distance, privilege and poverty.”

The people I met in Guatemala were often people who had “no helper” and needed support to cross the divides that Carolyn wrote of. They were people who had been affected by violence and oppression. Perhaps not personally, but culturally. Although Bob did not treat them with the “pity” mentioned in this psalm, he saw the precious potential in each one. And through him, God helped them blossom.

As you reflect, how can you help someone in poverty blossom?

A Guatemalan Mother Participates In A Reforestation Project

A Guatemalan Mother Participates In A Reforestation Project

Photo credits: Christian Foundation for Children and Aging (www.hopeforafamily.org)


The Sahel – Why It Matters

When I read audiobooks, sometimes a passage goes by and I find myself driving along, thinking “did I really hear what I think I heard?” That was the case in a passage of Dreams of Joy by Lisa See when the protagonists are traveling from Shanghai into the countryside, to rescue a family member from starvation during the Great Chinese Famine. As Pearl drives along, she and her companion discover a field where people are in holes. The people are alive, but they can’t get out of the holes (they have been left to die). At first Pearl sees just one person, and she is starting to think of how she can rescue the person. Then she sees that the field is filled with others in the same situation. She is resigned to the fact that she can help no one as her companion Z.G. reminds her that they are on their way to rescue their own flesh and blood.

Like Pearl, when I learned from OxFam America of the desperate situation in the Sahel, and the need to put this situation back in the minds of people, I wondered what I could say or do that would make a difference to even one person in the Sahel. The difference between Pearl’s situation and mine is that she existed in a work of fiction (although the famine was very real); the people of the Sahel are at the epicenter of a crisis and their situation is very, very “non fiction” and we do not have to leave them behind to die.

Photo credit: Oxfam International
First, the basic facts:
The Sahel is a region of West Africa, spanning the southern border of the Sahara Desert, where drought and rising food prices have put an estimated 18 million people at risk of hunger. This number is very likely to increase in coming weeks.
Harvests were poor last year, and drought this year threatens to exacerbate a situation that is already dire. People forage for wild food and search anthills for bits of grain.
 “The situation is difficult here. There’s a problem of rain. It’s been irregular,” said Founé Danfakha, a 60-year-old grandmother of four from Bembou, Senegal, who grows rice, maize, and groundnuts to feed her entire household. “If there’s not enough rain, there won’t be a harvest. And if there is no seed, there’ll be no harvest.”

1 million children are at risk of acute malnutrition. Parents are forced to sell essential tools and livestock in order to feed their families.What can you and I do to help any of these 18 million people? There are several things.

Donate online via this link. Oxfam America always aims to use your gift to help build lasting solutions to poverty (as opposed to short term fixes).
Spread the word about this issue. Even if you can’t donate right now, you can raise awareness; that can make a difference too. This infographic presents the facts really well. These facts speak for themselves; they go beyond numbers and stats about this crisis; they speak to my heart and emotions.
Support community development When I tweeted on Friday about my plans to blog about the Sahel this weekend, @martinpenner suggested this:

I must admit, I have a lot to learn about what can be done to increase community resiliency. It is mentioned in this informative and compelling article by Nathalie Bonvin as a key strategy to impacting this problem. Gotta say, Martin, learning more is on my to-do list!
Teach your children. Those of you who know me personally know that I am a big believer in “showing” children the issues that exist in our world rather than only “telling” them. I have only been able to travel internationally to see poverty (and the most incredible people) first hand, but that week taught my teenager (and me) more than any book ever could. Show your children what you can; encourage them to care. Few of us can travel; everyone can watch a YouTube video:

Spread the word. In our age of social media connectedness, it is easy to forget that the old fashioned method (conversing) works just as well. That was the case for me yesterday when I was telling people about preparing for this blog. Face to face — mom to mom — friend to friend — sometimes the most elegant way to ignite interest is to invite someone to learn along with you by saying, “I’m learning about the Sahel – have you or your child heard of it?”
There are several graphics here that can be shared via Facebook and Twitter.
Speaking of spreading the word, celebrities are investing their time and fame to help remediate the funding lag that exists. These celebrities include Kristin Davis and Djimon Hounsou.
I agree with Hounsou: “To some of us, this problem is a world away and is easy to ignore, but I implore you to pay attention.”
 Visit Djimon Hounsou’s personal fundraising/awareness page here.

Gifts from Guatemala

(This is an article I am submitting to our local newspaper in addition to a few other publications, partially to talk more about my and Tenley’s July trip to Guatemala, and partially to support my continued outreach to potential sponsors for Carla from Guatemala.)

Gifts from Guatemala 

A blogger friend of mine does a blog exercise every Tuesday called “Ten on Tuesday.” The blogger has to respond to ten questions. One of her questions in a recent Ten on Tuesday post was “Would you rather live without running water or without electricity?” When my daughter and I visited Guatemala in July 2011, we met many families for whom neither running water nor electricity is available.

Our family has sponsored a Guatemalan child, Silvia, since she was seven years old (she is now seventeen). The “main” purpose of the trip was meeting Silvia. It was important to me that my teenager see the “real” Silvia, not just the face we have seen smiling at us from a picture frame on an end table. The meeting with Silvia was everything I hoped it would be and more, not to mention a true workout for my rusty Spanish skills!

In each of the communities we visited, the 39 of us in the Christian Foundation for Children and Aging delegation were greeted like royalty. Flower petals covered the walkway in front of us; at one location confetti rained down while a marching band heralded us. All of this hoopla felt terribly undeserved, but one key lesson of visiting Guatemala in this capacity was that the people wanted to graciously welcome us; they were as energized as we were by the opportunity to be together.

I came away from my first international trip with many “lessons learned,” but the top three are:

Every mother wants the same thing for her child. Our extended family has given money each month to support Silvia for years. On the pamphlets it sounds so cut and dried – education, food, shelter – you know it is helping and that is a good thing. But when Silvia’s mother (and every single mother we encountered) looked into my eyes and thanked me, it was clear that she felt a partnership with us and that she believed our sponsorship of Silvia had helped her provide a safer future, with more options, than she would have been able to provide alone.

Silvia (the mom), Tenley, Me, Silvia (our sponsored child)

No dictionary definition of “poverty” really explains the term. Merriam Webster’s “lacking a usual amount of money” may define it in an academic sense, but it can’t capture the flip side – the strong desire on the part of many people living in poverty to do dignified work for a decent wage. The people we met, who were undoubtedly in poverty, had a steely strength of character and determination that no dictionary definition seems to capture.

A lovely Guatemalan woman who welcomed us into her home.

 Getting out of your comfort zone really shouldn’t be optional in life! I literally could not sleep the night before we left for Guatemala. My head was swirling with thoughts of trying to get by with my limited Spanish, how to deal with exchanging money, customs, and the news stories and blogs I had read (good and bad) about personal safety in Guatemala, especially in the city. The lost sleep was well worth it; I am glad I wandered far away from my emotional and physical boundaries.

 Dancing in Guatemala!

My daughter and I also came away from Guatemala with the gift of Estela. Estela is a child who Tenley decided to sponsor after she spent time with the children of Guatemala. Estela is the youngest of ten children, and it will be transformative for her to have access to education, health care, and better nutrition.

Tenley and Estela meet for the first time.

(I have agreed to help other children find sponsors. I am currently helping Carla, a Guatemalan six-year-old. If you are interested in finding out how you can be part of changing a Carla’s (and her family’s) life for just $30 a month, please contact me at (850) 556-3517 or opuswsk@aol.com.)