January marks my sixth anniversary as president and CEO of ChildFund International. I often think back to that first day of work. I was on an airplane. I flew from Richmond, Va., (ChildFund’s headquarters) to Ecuador to start my orientation.
Since ChildFund’s work was all about helping children, I figured I should start my education where that happens — in a remote village in a developing country. I chose a Latin American country because it was the part of the developing world I knew the least about, after having spent almost 20 years living and working in Africa, Asia and the Middle East.
My strongest memory of that trip comes from near the end of that first week, when we were meeting with one of our local partner organizations (ChildFund has 600 local partners in 31 countries). After a day spent observing Early Childhood Development centers and after-school programs, I was talking with local youth about their plans for the future, when a tiny Ecuadorian woman (I’m 5 feet, 8 inches, I’m sure she was much shorter than 5 feet) dressed traditionally, appeared at the community center. She had heard that ChildFund’s president was visiting and came to talk with me.
Full of emotion, and with tears running down her cheeks, she told me her story. Her husband had died 15 years earlier leaving her penniless, with several children to raise. She said she was fortunate to enroll her youngest child with ChildFund, where he benefitted from many health and educational programs over the years. He was also matched with a sponsor whom she described as generous. In addition to his monthly sponsorship contribution, the sponsor supported the family further, paying for a much-needed new roof for their small home, and, most importantly, helping set the mother up in a small business (tailoring, if I remember correctly).
The emotional mother grabbed me at this point and hugged me, saying she really didn’t know how she and her children would have survived without ChildFund and her son’s sponsor.
With my eyes already filled with tears from the mother’s heartfelt story, I happened to look up to see her tall, now nearly grown, son standing a bit behind her. Dressed in jeans and a nice shirt like any typical teenager anywhere, he looked sheepish and slightly uncomfortable at his mother’s very public display of emotion, and the attention it was getting from me and others. “What are you doing now?” I asked. After he got over his embarrassment, he told me he was taking an IT training course and hoped to get a job in that field.
At that moment, ChildFund had me — not only professionally but also emotionally. I knew I had made the right decision joining this organization. The only way we can stop poverty from becoming an inherited disease is to invest in children so they have the capacity and opportunity to bring lasting and positive change to their own lives and that of their families. ChildFund did that with this boy, now a young man. We will continue that work in 2013 with millions of children who deserve a better life.
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