Igniting Communities

Pentecost 26 ~ The Holy Spirit

Today is Pentecost, so I have seen many references to fire throughout the day, including “igniting the fire, kindling a fire,” and other fire-related phrases. These phrases took my mind back to last week’s visit to El Salvador’s communities as part of the Unbound Blogger Trip.

Blogger Rachel Balducci observes Morena's Cooking Space Photo Credit: Unbound

Blogger Rachel Balducci observes Morena’s Cooking Space
Photo Credit: Unbound

Cooking options range from primitive wood fires created from wood that must be gathered by the head of household, to limited gas-powered cooking. Fellow blogger Ali Ebright of GimmeSomeOven observed an eco-stove in action; the eco-stove diverts smoke through a chimney in order to keep it out of children’s lungs, helps the family use their limited resources more efficiently, and saves trees by decreasing wood consumption by 66%*

Blogger Ali Ebright cooks huisquil with Maria. Photo Credit: Unbound

Blogger Ali Ebright cooks huisquil with Maria.
Photo Credit: Unbound

As a result of the challenges faced by the families served by Unbound, the process of preparing to cook and then actually cooking the family’s food can be arduous. Imagine having to scavenge outdoors for wood in order to provide for your family. Imagine wood that is soggy from the frequent rains during rainy season (May through October).

It is relatively simple for most of us in the US to prepare meals for our families (turn a dial, light the grill, give in to exhaustion and visit a drive-through). The aisles of a typical American grocery store overwhelmed me with their excess of variety and options upon my return from El Salvador. We have ease, abundance, and social programs that attempt to make sure no child goes hungry.

Some fires take a lot of planning, labor, and good fortune to light. Some are ablaze so rapidly that it’s impossible to define the moment of ignition.

Of course Pentecost isn’t about a single mom in El Salvador seeking enough dry wood to make a cookfire. But it is in attending to these small details of living that we can tangibly reflect the Holy Spirit alive in us.

These families in El Salvador who are involved in Unbound, 85% of whom are headed by single mothers, do not have lives that anyone would consider “easy.” What they do have is one another. I heard testimony after testimony of the impact Unbound had on families: children who had adequate food, students who could keep going to school instead of dropping out to work, aging adults who had the support that is so frequently nonexistent. I saw mothers’ groups holding one another accountable and managing “cooperatives” where very small (in the scheme of things) loans were granted to help them start businesses and create better lives for their children.

A Mothers' Group in Las Lomas. Photo Credit: Unbound

A Mothers’ Group in Las Lomas.
Photo Credit: Unbound

I have volunteered frequently at churches where priests are giving a homily about Unbound, after which parishioners are invited to review folders of children and aging people who are awaiting sponsors.

I am convinced if I could by some feat of time travel drop the entire congregation into an Unbound project in El Salvador (or any of the 20 other countries served by Unbound) for just 15 minutes, they would come away with new sparks of understanding and interest in Unbound’s work. This is not to take away from the priests’ work; it’s just different when you look these people in the eyes. Unbound is not about handouts; it is about people who have the dedication and desire to improve their lives who need resources and support to do so.

I know the $30 a month cost of sponsorship, as reasonable as it is, is prohibitive for some of you. There are other ways to give: a one-time donation to the scholarship fund, for example. If nothing else, your prayers are welcome. This is a big project serving people with big needs; prayers can most certainly help a strong program remain so.

Today’s scripture spoke of “divided tongues.” In our week in El Salvador, we didn’t all speak the same language (thank you, interpreters for your help with THAT!). But we shared a commitment to fanning the flames of community, support, and compassion that underlie each Unbound project. Flames that will forge dignity for each participant.

A traditional dance. Photo Credit: Unbound

A traditional dance.
Photo Credit: Unbound

*Note: I gathered these facts about eco-stoves from ENLACE El Salvador. I do not know what brand of eco-stove Ali saw.

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Helping Javier Stay On Track With Sponsorship

On Monday, June 2, 2014, I walked down these railroad tracks about three quarters of a mile …

Javier Railroad Tracks

Entering a community in El Salvador …
Photo credit: Unbound

I was on my way to meet Javier. Javier is 8 years old. His favorite color is yellow, his favorite subject in school is “lenguaje” (languages), and he (along with his brother Josue) plays soccer (futbol to him) on a team called “Guzman.”

El Salvador Javier Four cropped

He also has a mom (Silvia) who desperately wants Javier to be able to stay in school, stay healthy, and keep his dreams alive (currently he dreams of being a firefighter).

Javier’s father Josue rises very early every morning, traverses these same railroad tracks to get to a bus on which he travels about an hour and a half away to procure fish that he comes back to the community and sells. Despite his constant efforts to provide for his family of four, sales of fish do not provide financial security and threaten Javier’s ability to succeed in school.

I am pretty sure I will never forget how many times Silvia, Javier’s mom, mentioned “zapatos” (shoes) when I asked how sponsorship through Unbound could help Javier. (In addition to education costs, sponsorship also provides assistance for housing, nutrition, health, and “formation” (leadership activities that help build morale and self confidence among youth).)

After I met Javier, as I was preparing to write his story, I couldn’t stop thinking about my son’s early childhood, when he was so obsessed with firefighters. About our trip to the fire station to meet the firefighters, about the firefighter Halloween costume, about the BuildABear figure that, once we clothed it (it was a dog named “Siren” of course) in a miniature firefighter outfit complete with boots and helmet, easily cost more than the $30 that a month of sponsorship through Unbound costs. I pray that Javier gets an opportunity to have a boyhood ignited with possibilities like my son has had.

Here is a little glimpse of Javier and Josue:

Javier’s 9th birthday is June 9, and I can think of no better gift than one of shoes … and the potential to fulfill his dreams … via sponsorship. For general information on sponsorship, please visit this link. If you are interested in sponsoring Javier, or know someone who would be interested, please contact me and I will put you in touch with the right resources.

HAPPY UPDATE AS OF 6/7/14: Javier has a sponsor! Whoever you are, thank you! There are still many children and aging awaiting sponsors. Visit this link for information! 

Javier, 8 years old, El Salvador, Future Firefighter

Javier, 8 years old, El Salvador, Future Firefighter

(Me), Javier, Josue (10), and Silvia (mom)

(Me), Javier, Josue (10), and Silvia (mom)

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El Salvador, Here I Come! #BlogUnbound

In less than seven hours, I will be boarding my flight to El Salvador. A schedule like that makes for a mighty short blog post!

Please read last week’s post to learn more about my trip to El Salvador as part of a blogging team.

My itinerary has gotten a bit more fleshed out since the last time I blogged. I now know that I will be able to speak with a mothers’ group that has a health focus, and will be able to discuss vaccinations.  I’ll be taking lots of notes and pictures and look forward to sharing everything with you!

And of course, I’ll meet Stanley, our family’s new sponsored child!


Photo Credit: Unbound

Come along, let’s see what there is to discover!

The Big Green Pen Is Taking a Big Trip! #BlogUnbound


“I tried carrying the weight of the world
But I only have two hands”

These lyrics from Avicii’s song “Wake Me Up” represent an approach many of us take when issues in our lives need to be resolved, whether they be relatively “small” personal challenges (“how am I ever going to get that birthday party planned?”) or relatively “big” global quandaries (“what can I do to eradicate world hunger?”).

For those “small” personal challenges, life has been trying to teach me for a long time now that it’s incredible how many people are willing to pitch in and help with just a little bit of guidance, encouragement, and (here’s the important thing) the fact that I need to ask in the first place.  For the “big” global quandaries, an organization called Unbound (formerly Christian Foundation for Children and Aging) adds so much more than my two hands to the goal of making a difference for people who are in poverty.

I have been involved with Unbound since my in-laws started sponsoring Silvia twelve years ago. I met Silvia and her mother in July 2011 when my daughter, Tenley, and I went to Guatemala on a Mission Awareness Trip. That’s when we started sponsoring Estela, also from Guatemala, and gained a first-hand knowledge of how our monthly contributions are used and how the letters we exchange with our sponsored children are an important part of the bond between sponsors and sponsored individuals.

I am thrilled to announce that I will be joining Unbound on a Blogger Trip to El Salvador June 1-6.  Details about the 3 other bloggers, 2 journalists, and 2 Unbound staff members who make up the team for #BlogUnbound can be found here. My goal as a participant on this trip is to make it come alive for those of you who can’t visit an Unbound site in person. I will be blogging and sharing about the trip via my social media channels before, during, and after the trip.

I will tell you unreservedly that one of the appointments on my itinerary that I am most excited about is meeting Stanley, a three year old child with muscular dystrophy who our family has decided to start sponsoring:


I will be meeting Stanley and his family on my first full day in El Salvador, at his home.  On Tuesday, I will meet with the health committee of a mothers’ group, and on Wednesday, I will meet with a college student who commutes five hours a day to take classes. My fellow travelers will get to see an eco-stove in use, meet sponsored children and aging, visit families who sell clothing and homemade jewelry to make a living, and cook local dishes.

Through my long-time involvement with Unbound, I have come to believe wholeheartedly in its sponsorship model. I know that $30 a month can change lives. I know that the $30 is not in any way a “handout” — it is a way to provide help to people who want to make their lives and the lives of children who rely on them for support more stable and hopeful. I am particularly enthusiastic about the programs that teach people skills that they can then use to support themselves.

Believing in this model as I do, I hope to use this trip to El Salvador to become a more knowledgeable messenger and more energized motivator to link additional hands together to lighten the load of people who are struggling under the weight of poverty.

Between now and June 1 when I depart, here are a few resources to learn about Unbound:

Unbound’s webpage can be found here.

Visit Unbound on Facebook here.

Visit Unbound on Twitter here.

Visit Unbound on Instagram here.

Read some of my previous posts about Unbound here, here, here, here, and here.

Tenley meets Estela, July 2011

Tenley meets Estela, July 2011

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