Giving Love and Hope

I learned very early during my 20 years of living overseas that it was a waste of time and money for my parents to send me gifts for Christmas or other big occasions. Two things generally would happen to any presents sent: Either the package would show up very late or never or, if it did arrive, I would have to pay import duty (taxes) that was generally a higher cost than the gift itself.

While working as a Peace Corps volunteer in Kenya, I did receive a Christmas package from my mother that first year - about eight months late. Among other things, my mother had sent me her homemade fruit cake wrapped in tin foil.  Although never a big fan of fruit cake, I have to report that between the alcohol she soaked her fruit in and the tin foil wrapping, the cake arrived edible – as least edible enough for a volunteer. But the cake wasn’t the most important part of the package. To me, the package was all about love – and my mom telling me I was still part of our family traditions even though I was living in a mud house in a remote part of Africa.

I am pleased to say at ChildFund we give people the opportunity to send gifts of love and hope to children all over the world through our holiday catalog.  My personal favorite this year – mattresses. Why? Because when I was in Bolivia earlier this year, I visited a family who had received mattresses for their children through ChildFund. Sleeping on the floor anytime is no fun; sleeping on the floor when it’s cold is horrible. The cold goes right to your bones. The children were thrilled with the mattresses and so was the mom, whose eyes filled with tears.

Long ago my siblings and I stopped exchanging Christmas gifts – we focus our Christmas giving on our many nieces and nephews. But this year, in honor of my seven sisters and brother, mattresses will be bought and given to children sleeping on cold floors. It’s my way of passing on the gift of love my mother sent me wrapped in tin foil all those years ago.

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ChildFund’s Gifts of Love & Hope catalog enables people to send items to those in need around the world. Think of it like a global “giving tree.” Goats to a family in the Philippines. A sewing machine to a mother in Ethiopia. Bicycles to girls in Sri Lanka. Read more in my HuffPost blog this week.

Building Strong Families in Bolivia

I’m on the road this week, visiting ChildFund programs in Bolivia, where we’ve worked with local partners since 1980.

Yesterday, we visited children and families who live in the impoverished urban areas of Santa Cruz, Bolivia’s second largest city. The rainy season is just starting, and the roads to get to the neighborhoods where we serve thousands of families were just terrible. Even in this urban area, we traveled probably 20 minutes on unpaved roads, with huge puddles of water and mud everywhere. The rainy season brings on many ailments in these communities, including diarrhea, respiratory and skin infections as well as deadly dengue fever.

In the neighborhood of Lero de Mayo, where our local partners Villa Alegre and Lucerito have been working with ChildFund’s support and technical assistance for almost 16 years, families opened their homes and hearts to us.

I had an opportunity to talk with Jimmy, now 19 and previously sponsored. He’s very close to graduating from high school, and his parents are so proud of him. He’s a confident young man, willing to support his parents, little brother and sister, and also eager to continue with his education. He wants to become an architect. Jimmy’s at the top of his class and hoping to get a government scholarship to go to university. I was happy to see such strong support for education among the community’s parents. Their desire for their children to continue with their education is key to their children’s success.

We also visited Maria Elena, a mother of nine children, six of whom are still at home. A few years ago, they received a cow through ChildFund’s Gifts of Love & Hope catalog. The girls named the cow Regina, and for Maria Elena the cow was the “greatest surprise and blessing.” The cow provides a steady supply of fresh milk for the girls during their growing years and enough extra that Maria Elena is able to contribute milk to the community center each week to help reduce malnutrition in other children. When Regina has a baby calf, Maria and family give the young calves to other families so that this chain of benefits can continue to extend and multiply in the community.

It’s gift of love that truly gives hope to communities like this one in Bolivia.