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

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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:

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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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Hope for Jose

As I write this, we have had power back on for almost 8 hours. Yes, we did do a happy dance of celebration at 3 am when the whole house lit up after a hurricane-induced outage of more than 48 hours.

Our outage was a “hardship.” Our home was really hot; we had to cook our eggs in a cast iron pot on the grill before they spoiled. My son mastered backgammon by flashlight. I was the first to volunteer for ANY outing that would take me out of the house and into blessed air conditioning. It was sad and frustrating to deal with my father-in-law’s constant requests for TV (he has short term memory issues).

In the scheme of things, however, we had it good. Our home is solid. Legions of utility personnel flowed into town and worked day and night to get us back up and running.

For families served by Unbound in Guatemala, the set of challenges is different. Because homes are often constructed of less-than-solid materials and methods. Because families rely upon day-to-day agricultural or other “get it as you can” work, a natural disaster poses daunting problems.

As this 2010 blog documenting the Unbound response to natural disasters in Guatemala documents, issues can include perilous roads, mudslides, volcanoes, and theft of personal property because homes are not secured.

For children like Jose, sponsorship can make a difference through providing food, health care, education, and support of his family’s efforts to make a living for themselves (via owning animals like chickens that produce eggs or by instructing a mom in a skill like sewing). In addition, Unbound holds two quetzales per child specifically to be able to respond immediately in case of disaster.

Child Sponsorship

A home we visited in Guatemala — it always humbled me that the family put so much work into creating the welcome sign and the dad said “I am sorry my home is so small.” It was very large in hospitality.

Unbound does an incredible job of balancing its imperative to help families learn how to help themselves, with providing support at times when survival is at stake. That’s one of the many reasons we love Unbound and sponsor three children (a young adult woman in Guatemala, a young girl in Guatemala, and a little boy in El Salvador).

Meet Jose, age 7, from Guatemala, who is seeking sponsorship now:

Child Sponsorship

Unbound shares the following about Jose:

Jose has fun singing and playing with toy cars, alongside his two brothers. He’s diligent in his studies and loves physical education.

At home, Jose helps his grandmother feed the pigs and he helps make the beds.

He and his family have lived with his grandparents for some time now. Their block home has a sheet metal roof and cement floor. His mother tends to the household chores.

Jose’s father is a mason’s assistant, but the work is unsteady. To augment his income, he also has a part-time job at a local store.

To help Jose:

If you are interested in sponsoring Jose, please outreach (at) unbound.org or call Clair, the Outreach Coordinator, at 800.875.6564 ext. 7309. I would also be happy to facilitate putting you in touch with Unbound.

Sponsorship is $36 a month. In the scheme of things, it’s a small investment which yields enormous results both for Jose and his family, for the good of humankind in general, and in the relationship you’ll develop with Jose and his family via letters (and, when fate really smiles upon you, VISITS).

You can also learn more about Unbound at their website, on Facebook, on Twitter, and on Instagram.

I am part of an Unbound effort to help secure sponsors for 100 children by Christmas. Since Jose turns 8 on December 10, I’m shooting for about 15 days earlier than that for him to hear those happy words “you have a new friend.”

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A neighborhood we visited in Guatemala. The families are VERY grateful to the sponsors and humbled us with such a grand welcome.

Child Sponsorship

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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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Taking A Shot At Indifference

Measles Crying Child

Health worker Ronnie Tut prepares to administer a measles vaccine to 1-year-old Jessica María Pop, an indigenous Mayan girl sitting on her mother’s lap, at a health centre in the community of Sacanillá, in Cobán Municipality in Alta Verapaz Department, Guatemala.
Credit : © UNICEF/NYHQ2012-2218/SUSAN MARKISZ

I never seriously want a child to be as distraught as Jessica María, pictured. But the momentary discomfort of an immunization is worth it to keep a child from suffering a vaccine-preventable death. Through my role as a Shot at Life Champion, I am joining with other Champions in an initiative called “Advocate to Vaccinate – a Coast to Coast Challenge for Global Vaccination.” During Advocate to Vaccinate, which leads up to World Immunization Week (April 24-30), Shot@Life supporters in communities across the country are raising their voices to advocate for sustaining U.S. government support for global vaccine programs.

If you are a regular visitor to my blog, you have seen the basic facts of global immunization issues among my posts before. The most basic fact is this: Every 20 seconds, a child dies of a vaccine-preventable disease. (For more details about the global health threats of vaccine-preventable diseases, visit this link….) As I have said before, I know we face serious issues here in the United States, and those are not lost on me as I advocate for children across oceans. Children here on our shores, however, are affected by global immunization deficits. For example, there have been  106 confirmed cases of measles here in the United States since January 1, 2014.

I was struck by this passage from an article by Andre Picard that I read recently about measles in Canada. The article was an interview with Dr. Seth Berkley, CEO of the GAVI Alliance:

(interviewer) You visit parts of the world where mothers walk for days to get their children immunized and in Canada, where it’s easy, it seems [some people] can’t be bothered.

(Dr. Berkley) The difference is that in the places where they walk for days they’ve seen their children die. They know all too well how deadly these diseases are. Parents all over the world want to help their children. If Canadian women were living in a community where, God forbid, they would see the graves of small children who died of measles every morning, they too would be clamouring, they would be doing everything in their power to get vaccines. Here the problem is invisible.

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To treat a heavy subject slightly lightly for a moment, I am also a southerner, and those of us participating in Advocate to Vaccinate are engaged in a healthy competition to be the region that does the most (including in-district meetings with our congresspeople, letters to the editor at our newspapers, community events, digital events, and blog posts, to name a few). Honestly, I want the south to win, so I am giving it all I’ve got!

Andre Picard’s article was entitled, “Indifference Leads to Outbreaks.”  I would love your help in eradicating indifference and, ultimately, eradicating vaccine-preventable diseases. Here are some ways you can help:

Visit www.advocate2vaccinate.org for more information.

Join my Twitter party which is being cohosted by @PamLovesBooks (please!) Wednesday night, April 9, from 8-9 p.m. Use the hashtag #adv2vax: Amended Adv2Vax Twitter Party Logo

Become a champion yourself! Email champions@shotatlife.org for more info.

Advocate with your elected officials to continue support for global vaccine programs (they are a fraction of our national budget and they make such a difference). Shot at Life does most of the work for you! Click here to get started.

Make a donation. A $5 donation can protect a child from polio and measles for his or her lifetime. Donate via this link.

Yes, indifference leads to outbreaks. It makes me feel like this little girl at the top of this post. Join me in eradicating indifference in order to have a healthier world. Let’s give kids a shot at life.

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With my fellow champions (and Florida moms) Nicolette Springer and Sili Recio in Washington, DC, advocating for Shot at Life. March 2014. We want YOUR company!

My Vote

This past summer, we adopted Bella the kitten. We adopted Bella despite the fact that our older cat, Alice Cooper, became our cat when she was put up for adoption years ago because she was unable to tolerate being part of a multi-cat home when her owner moved in with his significant other, who owned cats. Bella has been methodically destroying and stinking up our house since she came, but hopefully she will redeem herself by, as the sign above promises, supporting my politics.

As I have watched months and months worth of Facebook statuses and Tweets roll by, I have not chimed in often. For me, I find it too difficult to communicate the nuances of various opinions in a status that I am pretty sure will be “liked” by the people who already agree with me and attacked (or ignored) by the people who don’t. I suspect that Facebook statuses and tweets rarely convince someone on the other side to change course, and I am not sure they do a lot to educate the undecided voter.

One week-long trip to a third -world country does not an expert on world politics make but when I visited Guatemala in July 2011, presidential campaigning was underway. Tensions were heightened, but they weren’t just tensions about the latest polling. Election time there created a very real danger for personal safety. One of the travelers in our group bought a hat at a political rally we had passed in Guatemala City’s Central Plaza. Our leader asked him not to wear that hat; it would have been dangerous to us, and dangerous to the organization’s non-political mission to serve children and families in Guatemala to be perceived as showing support for any particular candidate. We heard that one way the drug industry gets a foothold is by having their operatives elected as mayor of smaller communities which creates a feeder system into the higher offices. We have our issues here in the US but we are able to support whichever candidate we choose, knowing our personal safety is not at stake and that there are checks and balances on corruption (flawed as they may be).

I am ridiculously, deeply, unabashedly patriotic. When my kids were little, I probably got more excited about “Kids Voting” than my kids did. I made sure they never missed a chance to vote. I inwardly rolled my eyes when my kindergartner chose a candidate who I did not plan to vote for “because he looks nice.” But it’s never too early to demonstrate to our children that voting is not an “option,” it is a responsibility. And as my daughter has gotten older, I see her learning to ask good questions about the candidate options. Even if she and I never agree on candidates, I hope she plans to show up every time the polls open.

Lastly, we all know one person can’t change things singlehandedly. I see the layers upon layers of frequently superfluous bureaucracy and the maze of subcontractors that have become part of many federal programs and wonder if anyone out there, whether it is the president, an agency head, or my elected representatives, are willing to say: We have to take a step back and figure out how to do what has to be done, without becoming hidebound by all of the “barnacles” that accumulated between this project being a fabulous idea and it being the turf of this or that party.

[On a side note from the presidential campaign discussion, it was my insight into Bill Nelson’s management style and investment in getting things right when he was chair of the board of directors of an organization with which I was affilialted that will win him my vote every single time he runs.]

When we took a DISC assessment as part of a management training at work, one of the things my profile said about me was “you tend to tell a story more than sell it.” That may be true but I find it ironic because I feel like I spend a lot of time trying to “sell” people the idea of donating time, money, or items to particular causes. (But the assessment also recommended that people stay three feet away from me and I am actually a hugger so who knows?). What it DID say was that I thrive on being part of a team, a team that is focused into the things and causes I find important. And although I know any political campaign is going to have nastiness, something that grieves me the most about his one is the vitriol and hatred that have spewed faster than I can click out of some tweet streams and Facebook posts. It’s one thing to present an argument against this or that policy stand, but it’s quite another to attack an individual as being an inherently bad person.

With that said, I am proudly casting my vote for President Barack Obama. You may be voting for the other candidate; if you do, I am still glad you are voting and I will still respect him if he becomes President.

But as for Bella and me, we are on Team Obama all the way.