Saying Goodbye to Silvia

It is time to say goodbye to Silvia, the first person our family sponsored through Unbound. Although I knew her time in the program would end, it was still a sobering moment when I received the notification, even though her departure is due to her success.

The Farewell Notification

Humanitarian Programs

Unbound sent us a letter notifying us that Silvia had graduated, along with a farewell letter written by Silvia’s cousin (and translated by Unbound), explaining Silvia was unable to write due to her job. Here’s an excerpt:

…Silvia is in good health thanks to God along with her family. We thank you for the support you have given her since it has benefited her with healthcare, education, food supplies, shoes, clothing and much more.

She has gotten other significant benefits such as cinder block, sheets of tin, cookware, bed and others which got better her home. I also tell you that Silvia leaves Unbound program since she graduated from high school and she got the art and sciences diploma, she has gotten a job actually and she works selling clothing, now she is able to support her family.

 

Our History With Silvia and Her Family

I don’t recall the precise date Silvia became a part of our family when my in-laws chose to sponsor her through Unbound (I think it was around 2002); they picked her partially because she was close in age to Tenley and my nieces, thinking shared gender and age would help the connection feel more “real.”

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Over the years, I felt increasingly led to meet Silvia in person. Pictures and letters can only convey so much. I wrote about the goal here and here.

In 2011, th goal became reality! Tenley and I traveled to Guatemala as part of an Unbound Mission Awareness Trip and met Silvia and her mom (also named Silvia). I shared our experiences here and here.

What I Have Learned

Documenting what we have learned over the time we have sponsored Silvia, especially through the trip to meet her in 2011, is a challenging task which largely defies words. A few observations, though.

Sponsorship is not a one-way street. Yes, our monthly contributions provided her and her family with support they would not otherwise have had and enabled her to get an education (not something to be underestimated in Central America) and her family to have better housing. Hopefully the letters and packages (back when we were allowed to send packages) sent by my in-laws and us (technically my in-laws were Silvia’s sponsors) inspired, amused, and affirmed her and her family. But as cliche’ as I know it sounds, we got as much or more out of the experience than they did.

This experience pointed up our sheer humanity and imperfection, which is why God’s grace is so central to our lives. My fellow parishioners at Holy Comforter made a Humanitarian Programsbeautiful quilt for Silvia. Each parishioner crocheted or knitted a square, then they were sewn together and blessed at church before being taken to Silvia. It was truly a lovely gift. I have to say, though, in retrospect, Guatemala is a very hot place. I am sure Silvia and her family treasure the gift but as practical gifts go, I could possibly have made a more useful choice! I also underestimated the fact that she was (at the time of our visit) a typical teenage girl. After meeting her and seeing her sense of style, I thought of other things we could have given her that may have been a bit more to her liking!

Spending time in a developing country is far superior to reading about a developing country. I know we can’t all go to countries about which we are curious due to financial, time, or health constraints, but do it if you can. I will never, ever, ever forget visiting one family’s humble home with a homemade welcome sign on the door. The home was so primitive, and the owner apologized for the home’s small size as I entered. But the Humanitarian Programssentiment on the door and the genuine love shown by the people we visited trumped every standard-of-living consideration. That said, we have it so good here, y’all (speaking to my friends in the US, Canada, and other countries where we have everything we need even if sometimes we perceive we don’t have what we want). We need to let that ease of living fuel our generosity to help others who aren’t so fortunate have the tools they need to support themselves.

Having to wait things out is a blessing. Our first 24-48 hours in Guatemala did not go smoothly. It was an adjustment to remember to throw the toilet paper away rather than flush it, to take the Pepto Bismol every four hours to fend off gastrointestinal distress, to remember not to drink the water. I am not exaggerating one bit to say Tenley was miserable and I am pretty sure I recall her emailing her dad (when we had a moment of internet connectivity at Unbound’s center) to tell him she wanted to go home NOW. Thank goodness that wasn’t a possibility, because she had done an emotional 360 by the end of the week. We have all gotten used to instantaneous everything, including rapidly ditching situations that no longer please us. I am so grateful that wasn’t an option for us.

What We Hope For Silvia

One of the biggest challenges of the end of an Unbound sponsorship is the fact that it truly is a final “goodbye.” For a variety of reasons that make perfect sense from a practical and security standpoint, we are not allowed to share addresses or attempt to continue contact.

Tenley said to simply “tell her we love her and to never lose faith in Christ.”

Maybe it’s as basic as that. We want her to always know how loved she was (and is) and to keep up her faith. I would add, though, that as a female in her early 20s in a country like Guatemala, I pray that she use the education she received to control the reins of her life, that she is immune from being controlled by a man who does not want the best for her, from being restricted by a government that does not value her equally with males, that she is as free as possible from self-doubt.

How to Help Other “Silvias”

Unbound gave us the option to roll my father-in-law’s monthly contribution to another sponsored individual, but due to his terminal illness, we declined. (Our family still sponsors Estela in Guatemala and Stanley in El Salvador.)

If you are seeking a way to make a difference for a child, individual with special needs, or aging person, I strongly encourage you to consider sponsoring through Unbound via a $36 per month contribution.

Because it is more difficult for adults to find sponsors, I have chosen to feature Leonel Oscar:

Humanitarian Programs

According to Leonel Oscar’s profile on the Unbound website, he Leonel likes praying for the people in his community, so they can live with a better quality of life. He has a mental disability which makes it difficult for him to pronounce some words. Speech therapy would help him improve his ability to communicate with others. Leonel lives with his sister in a concrete-block dwelling. It’s far from the urban area, so they go by bus to the market. Leonel and his sister grow watercress and herbs to sell there.

Unbound’s site shares information about everyone needing sponsors on their site; you can sort by birthday, first name (I had hoped to find another “Silvia” to share with you!), and other criteria. Click here to start your sponsorship journey. (If you have an interest in Leonel Oscar specifically and can’t find him, I will be happy to try to help you.)
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Currently Thinking About Josue

If you have read my blog for a while, you may know that my involvement with Unbound originated with my in-laws. More than a decade ago, they decided to sponsor Silvia, a young girl in Guatemala. They chose Silvia because she was around the same age as my daughter, Tenley, my niece, Elizabeth, and several other of their grandchildren. My mother-in-law, Barb, and I held many conversations over the years about Silvia, putting together birthday and Christmas packages, reading her letters, and preparing letters back to her. One of the high points of our sponsorship journey was Tenley’s and my meeting Silvia and her mother in 2011!

Josue’s Story

When Unbound asked me to share the story of a child on my blog as part of an effort to find him a sponsor, I felt like Barb, who passed away in 2013, was looking over my shoulder as I read this line about Josue’s father: “There’s a software JAWS (Job Access With Speech) that tells you what’s on the screen.” Jose, the father, who is blind, works in local radio for a small town. The software and access to a computer is essential for him to try to make a living for himself, Josue’s mother Daysi, Josue, and his two other children.

I’ve shared profiles of other children hoping for Unbound sponsorship before. Because I am intrigued with the “currently” prompt which I saw on Simply Elle, I’m going to try to blend a little creative writing with a LOT of factual data to share a profile of Josue’s family with you!

CURRENTLY: Jose and His Familia

Currently Thinking About Josue

READING

From Josue (he prefers to be called Toñito): I am 5 years old, so I am not reading yet. I like to draw and I like coloring books. My parents pray that I will get an education so that I can read and have more potential for work as I grow up.

EATING

From Daysi (Josue’s mom): Jose gives me four dollars a day to get food for the five people in our family. Because he is blind and his job options are limited, the income from his radio announcing in this small town is not consistent. Even four dollars a day is often difficult to come up with.

THINKING ABOUT

From Jose: I am thinking about my dreams for Toñito and my other children. I dream for them to be good people, but the situation here in El Salvador is difficult. As a parent, I do my best to educate them to be good people who will grow up to make good decisions. I would like for my children to get an education and go to college.

LOOKING FORWARD TO

From Jose: I am looking forward to my children growing up and having more options than I have. When Toñito was born, Daysi was only 27 weeks pregnant. He stayed in the hospital for three months as the doctors worked on his heart problem and repaired a hernia. Now that such a difficult start is behind him, I am looking forward to a healthy future.

LEARNING

From Jose: The more I can learn about computers, the better. Before I had access to a computer, I had to work under the hot sun, selling items in the market. I have also worked as a shoe maker, sold newspapers, made crafts for sale, and made furniture. I did anything I could to try to move forward.

LOVING

From Jose: My family. The joy I feel inside my heart. Trying to motivate others! My wife Daysi’s humility and fighting spirit.

WORKING ON

From Jose: I continue to learn all I can about computers, because that helps me have other wage-earning possibilities. JAWS (the software) tells you what is on the screen, but I only have a PC and keyboard, so that limits how much JAWS can help me.

LISTENING TO

From Jose and Daysi: In a household with three kids, there’s always noise! I hear the sounds of our town’s animals, and love it when the local musicians are playing.

LAUGHING AT

From the whole family: The local street dogs do funny antics!

WISHING

From Jose: As a parent, I feel like I am a drowning man anxiously holding an arm out of the water for someone to throw me a rope! This request for sponsorship is not for me: it is for my child. All three of my kids are growing up and they need to be prepared for a world threatened by climate change yet enhanced by advanced technology. Where we live, there are no job opportunities; if you don’t have an education it is almost impossible, and I am very worried for them.

If someone decides to sponsor my son, to say “Here I am, I’m next to you,” I will be endlessly grateful. I would send so many blessings to that person because, honestly, I would not have words to express how I would feel.

Notes from Paula

I hope this “currently” exercise gave you a glimpse into the life of Toñito and his family, and the reasons why sponsorship can make such a huge difference!

A little more about the family’s living situation: They live in a humble adobe home. Jose says, “I know there are many repairs that need to be made in my house, but my biggest concern is having money to buy food for my wife and children.” They do not have running water; they have a community well. They do have electricity, but it was very hard to obtain.

Although four of Jose’s clients pay monthly, most of them are seasonal, which leads to variability in income. He also teaches Braille four days a month to supplement the family income. The family net income is around $100 a month (remember they spend about $4 a day to eat, and last time I checked $100 minus $120 did not lead to a positive balance).

A contribution of $36 per month can help Toñito have his basic needs met so that he can grow, get an education, and thrive.

More About Unbound

Unbound’s website is accessible by clicking here.

Visit Unbound on Facebook by clicking here.

Visit Unbound on Twitter by clicking here.

Visit Unbound on Instagram by clicking here.

Read selections of my previous writing about Unbound here, here, here, here, and here.

Again, to sponsor Toñito, click here. If you are not in a position to sponsor now, please consider sharing this with someone who may be. Prayers are ALWAYS accepted and appreciated!

Currently Thinking About Josue

UPDATE: Josue has been sponsored! What a blessing! I am so grateful to my friend who decided to sponsor him!!! There are many more children, youth, and aging awaiting sponsorship in 22 countries around the world! For more information, please click here

 

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Eight Pairs of Shoes (A Mama Kat Writing Prompt)

As far back as I can remember, my daughter Tenley has loved shoes. She had a little pair of patent red shoes when she was a baby which were THE BOMB shoe-wise. As she grew and was able to choose her own shoes, it became clear that she was a shoe-lover. We jokingly called her Baby Imelda.

Tenley is almost out of her teen years, but I still have a distinct memory of those adorable red shoes. Thinking of them brings back happy memories of her babyhood.

I, on the other hand, can take or leave shoes (although I do appreciate a cool pair of shoes like these on MiamiStyleMom!). In response to Mama Kat’s “list eight things you are thankful for” prompt, I decided to see what I could do in relation to shoes:

(1) My Running Shoes

Shoes for Cambodian Children

My love for my running shoes knows no bounds. Everyone who knows me knows I would rather arrive at a business trip having forgotten my “work” shoes than my running shoes! I am thankful for the miles of therapy they take me on.

(2) My Indoor Cycling Sandals

Shoes for Cambodian Children

Although I haven’t had the opportunity to wear them too many times, these indoor cycling sandals by Nashbar with clips are so great! A) no socks needed B) every time I wear them I think about the first time I ever clipped in to anything: at SoulCycle in NYC and C) I am thankful that they make the experience of indoor cycling so much more efficient!

(3) The Tennis Shoes I Wore in El Salvador

Shoes for Cambodian Children

They’re just Payless tennis shoes, and the laces were so incredibly long that people were always commenting, “do you realize your shoes are untied?” BUT they are the shoes I bought to wear when I went to El Salvador as part of the first Unbound Blogging Trip, so they bring back great memories. I am thankful that I walked the ground of El Salvador in these shoes.

(4) My Favorite Black Shiny/Matte Shoes

Shoes for Cambodian Children

This is my most current pair of black dress shoes. I don’t recall exactly when I bought them, but it was either for an important meeting or a film school project. I love the matte/shiny effect. They’re close to being way too worn now but I am thankful that I have enjoyed them so much.

(5) My Brown Boots

Shoes for Cambodian Children

I bought these shoes last year when I was going to be having a high school reunion on a farm. Although I was going to be wearing jeans, I wanted something a little dressier than tennis shoes. These filled the bill, and I am thankful that they give me another option when I need to be a little bit more dressed “up” than “down.”

(6) My Blue Dress Shoes

Shoes for Cambodian Children

I *love* these shoes. I bought them for my friend Mary Jane’s wedding, which was in the spring of 1999. It was down to two pairs of shoes, and these cost a lot (for me), but they have been SO WORTH IT. I almost ruined them this past spring when I went to visit Senator Bill Nelson’s office here in Tallahassee and dealt with a deluge of rain as I was leaving. They *might* have survived. I am thankful that I treated myself to a pair of shoes that I have enjoyed for 16 years.

(7) My Utilitarian Black Boots

Shoes for Cambodian Children

When I went to the Shot at Life summit in DC in March of this year, the weather was horrible. Snow, ice, you name it. My DC friend Christina told me to get boots. I scurried over to Kohl’s and picked these up. They may not make a huge style statement but they probably literally saved me from twisting an ankle or something on sidewalks which were literally sheets of ice. I am thankful for friends who tell it like it is.

(8) The Shoes I Will Never See or Wear

Shoes for Cambodian Children

This pair of shoes is not on me (my feet aren’t that dainty!). I do not own them. I am never going own them. BUT my friend Linda has a goal of putting these shoes on the feet of 600 children in the Kratie province of Cambodia when she goes there on a mission trip next year. Lacking shoes, these children get ill from infections contracted by walking barefoot and they suffer injuries.

I have submitted a #mygivingstory which, if it wins, would result in Linda and her team getting $5,000 toward their goal of putting shoes on these 600 children (the total cost is $9,000). Read more about The Shoe that Grows here, more about Linda and the children here, and most importantly, please go to this link and simply click like. (The semifinalists will be chosen strictly on the basis of the number of likes.) I am thankful for all likes on this #mygivingstory!

Shoes for Cambodian Children

Why do I feel the way I do about these children and these shoes? I have never been able to get the picture out of my mind of a women who met with Tenley’s and my group when we went to Guatemala in 2011. Representing her village among the Unbound visitors was a bit of a privilege for her, and she arrived barefooted. I am sure she didn’t have shoes of her own. She carried herself with such dignity. I am sure she saw this meeting with us as a way to do something that would ultimately help her children.

These shoes for the children in Cambodia are designed to last five years and/or through five sizes. Through her previous work, Linda has already opened a school, provided medical care, and provided hundreds of children with the opportunity to lead much healthier lives.

With a simple click of a like button, we can be a part of the Light of Future too!

Shoes for Cambodian Children

Children Linda has served in Cambodia.

NOTE: If you would like to simply make a donation, click here.

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Five Questions for 2015

It’s the first day of March and I a doing a “look back at 2014” post. Hmmm…..

It is a little late in the year for this, but I was attracted to these “5 Questions to Make the Most of 2015”  and their accompanying quotes so I decided to give them a shot. Retrospection is never really out of style especially if it helps you improve.

When did I kick ass?

“Celebrate what you want to see more of.” – Tom Peters

If I kicked ass in 2014, it was either:

A cumulative set of small things (like honoring the soldiers of Camp Gordon Johnston almost every day, demonstrating accountability in my workouts, consistently using Charity Miles to earn money for causes I love via my workouts)

StanleyDuPlanti

or …

Successfully biting my tongue during my daily drives with my father in law. It has been a struggle to “be the adult” when being told how to drive, having my motives for working questioned, or being berated for taking the time to lure the cat in after he (again) left the door open accidentally.

However – you know who’s the real badass in this situation? He is. For dealing with the loss of his spouse of 55 years, for dealing with decades of debilitating chronic pain, for waiting interminable amounts of time for diagnostic tests to explain the latest health issue, for having zero control in a world where he is accustomed to being in charge.

When was I most alive?

“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” – Howard Thurman10409403_10152149271486315_2859153504720087386_n

Easy: the week I spent in El Salvador and the week I spent in NYC.

Also, any time I was on an FSU film set.

And when I was scared to death and completely out of my element auditioning for a musical (then when I took a lesson to try to at least improve the piece and redeem myself). It was still below par musically but clawing myself up from awful to mediocre felt very, very alive.

When was I bored?

“The opposite of happiness is not sadness, but boredom.” – Tim Ferriss

“Here’s a great definition of boredom: The absence of growth.”

I was bored at work. Therefore I left.

Note: At no time in almost 20 years was I ever bored with the cause of providing quality, affordable health care to children. I was bored with the way my responsibilities were playing out. I was feeling the itch to do more communications and incorporate social media into my work life. Neither of those were options. I have only written one blog post about why I left, and it’s not about boredom, but here it is.

Who were my teachers this year? Whom did I teach?

“You are the average of the five people with whom you spend the most time.” – Jim Rohn

I have actually had a placeholder to do an entire blog about this idea — I read about it previously in the blogs of one of the Lead Change Group Leading Voices.

The answer to the “five people” question is:

My husband, Wayne

My father-in-law, Wayne

My son, Wayne Kevin (do we see a theme here?)

The online community

My Toastmasters group

My husband has taught me to ask for things I don’t feel like I can get. My father-in-law has taught me to check and make sure the door is really closed so that cat doesn’t get out! My son has taught me that the people who seem the least observant are sometimes quite the opposite. My online community has taught me it is okay to ask for help. My Toastmasters group  has taught me to tell my story with fewer double clutches. (A double clutch is when a word or phrase is repeated such as “She played basketball played basketball well.”)

Who have I taught? I enjoyed being a first-time mentor to a new Toastmasters member. Maybe some other lessons I have taught will come home to roost. We’ll see.

What mattered most?

“The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena…who spends himself on a worthy cause” – Theodore Roosevelt

Family. Always has, always will.

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Do these questions pique  your curiosity as they did mine? Give them a look and let me know what you think!

The Sisters She Never Had and More

— 1 —

 POSTPONE NOTHING.

I heard this sentiment expressed in a public radio interview featuring Lynne and Tom Martin, authors of Home Sweet Anywhere. (This WidowsList.com interview with Lynne discusses the “postpone nothing” philosophy the couple adopted when they decided to sell their home, “disburse their belongings,” and see the world.)   It is a two-word phrase that says so much more. I concur. Utterly.

home sweet anywhere

— 2 —

When Just Getting To Know Your Massage Therapist …

Sunday, I had a lovely massage from Michelle Butler, LMT. We had mutual acquaintances, so we had a great chat during the massage and immediately Facebook friended each other afterwards. Fast forward to a few hours later when my husband texted “need scallions” to me right after I checked out at Publix and was loading the car. I wasn’t dying to return to the store. Too bad I sent my angry emoji to Michelle instead of to Wayne. OOOOOPSSSS!

Michelle Text

I quickly realized my mistake and corrected it (yes I did send Wayne the same emoji!) but that was embarrassing!

 

— 3 —

“Clear on the right.”

sign

It is funny how things work out. When I first requested to be considered for Elizabeth Flora Ross’s “The Writer Revived” Summer Series, I had my choice of weeks. Once I had dragged my feet getting back to her, the only week left was the last week of summer. It turns out I needed a summer of driving my father-in-law around to have this piece in me. Thank you, Elizabeth, for sharing it (the picture above is the three-way stop I refer to in the piece).

Please click here to read “The Ride” and to understand the reference to “clear on the right.”

— 4 —

When It’s Right to Lean Left

I competed in my Toastmaster Club’s “Evaluation” and “Humorous Speech” contests. It’s always a great experience (as well as slightly nervewracking) to compete. I came in second in both. My humorous speech was based on a true-life situation I encountered in El Salvador. I would love feedback about what works for you as a listener and what doesn’t!

 

— 5 —

All Those Tenleys!

We got the group photo in from our July 19 “Tenley Party.” I love it! (Tenley Albright is in the center (black dress, pink flowers). My Tenley is in the third row, seated in front of a young woman in red and white stripes.

Photo Credit: Ellen Rogers Photography

Photo Credit: Ellen Rogers Photography

 

— 6 —

Sisterhood.

When I got the text from my daughter that she had received a bid from the sorority she wanted, I was in a movie theater and had just glanced down at my phone to check the time. Therefore I couldn’t do anything except take in the information quickly ….. and tear up. She will be pledging the Delta Theta Chapter of Alpha Delta Pi at Valdosta State University. I have never had sisters and was not in a sorority. The prospect of her being part of a sisterhood, especially if it gives her the lifelong bond that my adult friends who were part of sororities still share, makes me exquisitely happy.

Having Sisters

Tenley (left) on bid day!

(AND for item 6.5, she declared a major … PUBLIC RELATIONS!)

 

— 7 —

This phrase, though.  

Any other language fans out there? I keep seeing this construction all over social media:

This [insert object], though. For example, a cute baby with gorgeous blue eyes might get “those eyes, though.” I get what the writer is intending. Where did it come from? A movie? A book? Clue me in!

 For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

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.

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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.

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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!

Stanley

Photo Credit: Unbound

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