Sunday, March 31, 2013

Language doesn't matter during sacred moments ...

Over the past few weeks, we've had 3 different teams or individuals visit Trees of Glory CarePoint in Ethiopia.  Of course the kids LOVE having visitors - they spend time in the classrooms learning new things and they get lots of love and attention!

Jenn Cleary and her husband took a vacation in Ethiopia and made a special trip to Trees of Glory to meet their sponsor kids!




Matt Monberg with Children's HopeChest lead a vision team to Ethiopia to visit CarePoints that are just getting started.  Spending a day at Trees of Glory shows the team what can be - when a CarePoint is fully sponsored, children are being fed and cared for and capital projects are starting to generate income and self-sufficiency. 
 
Matt commented to me that the difference is huge between a new CarePoint and an established one.  The sense of desperation among the kids is not evident at Trees of Glory and instead the kids are full of hope and excitement for their future!!
 
 
 
Rachel Andrews is also with Children's HopeChest and she emailed me some photos and commented, "I absolutely LOVED TOG. Simret is top notch and reminds me of some of our best staff in Russia. She is so proud (as she should be!) of all that is happening there and the difference from 2009 to now.
 
The garden is blooming, the cows were producing milk like crazy and the chickens are producing better! I could see a difference in the kids there vs. kids at new CarePoints who aren't yet sponsored, or who aren't used to the benefits of sponsorship yet. TOG kids were so polite and mindful of their manners.  It was one of my favorite visits and I would love to go back! (Not to mention how incredibly beautiful it is!)
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
  
During their visit, a large truck dropped off a 3 month supply of tef for making injera.
 
 
 
The third visit was Joey Austin's team from St Joseph, MO.  Many sponsors sent a care-package with her team who worked with the kids at Trees of Glory AND Kind Hearts!! 
 


Joey with her Kind Hearts sponsor child, Hyder!
 
From Joey's blog ... So many wonderful things happened at Trees of Glory that it's hard to write them all down, but here it is in a nutshell:  we were able to hand out care-packages to the children from their sponsors in the US and take in their joy at a kind written word, encouragement, prayer or gift; play with the kids in the (hot!) sunshine; tour the amazing grounds and marvel at the new chicken coop, clean water well and best of all, the new mud hut that is now their chapel!!
 
Here we gathered as a group with some of the TOG staff members, prayed and sang "Amazing Grace" and "Shout to the Lord".  Many of the staff members did not know the words but knew how to praise.  Language doesnt matter at a sacred moment like that. 
 
A few of us took Simret aside and laid hands on her and prayed for her.  Her shoulders shook and she cried as Cindy Richardson spoke one of the most beautiful prayers I've ever heard lifted to heaven.  Simret is an indescribable forces for the school and a visionary leader.  What a huge impact she has made not only for the children, but also for the community surrounding Trees of Glory CarePoint.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Gist: The main point or part (Essence).

I'll get right to the point.  The gist.

Gist is a noun, meaning the main point or essence of something.  (I know I'm not telling you something you don't already know.)

But oftentimes I use the word "gist" as a verb.  As in "let me gist it for you."  (I know I'm breaking rules but hang with me ...)

Meaning, there's all kinds of information and research to support (or bore you with) what I'm going to say, but please allow me to boil it down and gist it for you ...  (you get my point).

Last night, one little girl remained un-sponsored at our Trees of Glory CarePoint.  Her name is Fantaye and she's 7-8 years old (her actual birthdate is not known). 



One little girl, with a sweet, shy smile and a shaved head. 

One little girl that stood patiently waiting her turn in November as we sat with each child individually to unwrap their care-package and read their letter from their sponsor family.

One little girl who nervously bunched her skirt in her hands and kept her eyes focused on the ground.

One little girl who back in November, got a package with a pretty pink shirt.  Our volunteer wrapped arms around her and lifted her chin to look into her eyes ... and spoke love and hope and worthiness into her until she seemed to accept and nod. 

But the tag on her package had her name only and the words "no sponsor yet" - and so we stood in the gap.  (And our team of volunteers feels priveleged to stand in that gap - we know how precious and sacred it is to each sponsor and to each child.)

But that changed last night.  She was the last waiting child at Trees of Glory.  One final plea on facebook and within minutes Kathryn emailed me back saying "We will sponsor her!"

Kathryn already knows the impact sponsorship makes for a child.  Because Kathryn sponsors another child at Trees of Glory and has already seen a steady and beautiful and hope-filled tranformation in that child - and now she will be that for yet another child!

One of the reasons I believe it is so important to take a team to Ethiopia every year (to work with the kids) is because it gives each person on that team a first-hand experience as to the difference YOU have made for these kids.  And through our experiences, we can try our best to craft the words and pictures so you can see it too.



Sponsorship provides nutritious food, so their tummies aren't hurting and their brains are not starved of fuel.  It provides clean water so they aren't curled up in pain from bacteria and parasites that have them doubled over and walking around with painful distended bellies.  Sponsorship provides education, so they have opportunities to step with dignity out of the grinding poverty that has been their legacy and trajectory.  Sponsorship provides hope and encouragement and self esteem because YOU speak words of love and hope and truth into a vacuum that is desperate for those healing words.

There is an excellent study that has just been completed (January 2013) by Bruce Wydick, professor of economics and international studies at the University of San Francisco, that reveals large and statistically significant impacts on life outcomes for children enrolled in Christian child sponsorship programs.  The findings will be published in the April "Journal of Political Economy".

This online post does an excellent job of "gisting" the 45 page research document published by Wydick http://blog.acton.org/archives/51866-does-international-child-sponsorship-work.html.  Here are the gisted bullet points:

  • Former sponsored children stay in school 1 to 1.5 years longer than their non-sponsored peers (In Uganda, the numbers are much higher—2.4 years). An extra year of schooling could have long-lasting impact on a child’s future employment possibilities as an adult.
  • Former sponsored children were 27-40 percent more likely to finish secondary education than those who were not enrolled in the child sponsorship program.
  • Former sponsored children were 50-80 percent more likely to complete a university education than non-sponsored children.
  • As adults, former sponsored children were 14-18 percent more likely to have salaried employment than their non-sponsored peers.
  • As adults, former sponsored children were roughly 35 percent more likely to secure white-collar employment than their non-sponsored peers.
  • Former sponsored children were 30-75 percent more likely to become community leaders as adults than their non-sponsored peers.
  • Former sponsored children were 40-70 percent more likely to become church leaders as adults than their non-sponsored peers.


  • I love seeing these positive statistics, but they are statistics.  Faceless and nameless.

    To me, the statistics are important because of the results they reveal ... but the visible, tangible, daily proof is revealed in their lives. 

    And each life has a name and a face ... and hopes and dreams.

    These are just 4 of the kids at Kind Hearts who are still waiting ...

    Abedulkedir
    SPONSORED!
     
    Adane

    Meseret
    Meron
    SPONSORED!

    Please allow me to gist it.  I've seen the difference with my own eyes.  I know these kids, I've cried with them and laughed with them and held them in my arms ... and dreamed big lofty dreams of what their future holds with them. 


    Your sponsorship makes a difference.

    ALL of the kids at Trees of Glory now have a sponsor family!!! 

    But there are still waiting children at Kind Hearts CarePoint. 

    If you are interested in being matched with a child, please contact me at kjwistrom@yahoo.com.

    Saturday, March 16, 2013

    "I was garbage ... but I am not garbage anymore!"

    Have you been thinking about sponsoring a child?

    Has your heart been moved by the story of a friend or neighbor or co-worker who has connected with an orphaned or destitute child and made a difference for that child?

    Has it crossed your mind that "I could do that" but you're not sure where to connect or how to get started?

    In October, we enrolled nearly 100 new children at our Trees of Glory and Kind Hearts CarePoints in Ethiopia.  These are children who had been standing on the outside, looking in - hoping and wishing for the opportunity to go to school and rely on a meal every day...

    Beginning with just 68 kids back in 2009, we now have almost 400 children enrolled!!  Many of these kids are orphans, they live with an older sibling, an aunt or a grandparent, who cannot provide for them.  Without provision, these kids could not rely on a meal every day, they drank water that made them sick and filled their bellies with parasites that made them sicker.  No medical care.  No school.  Tattered clothing.  Little hope.

    Some of the kids still have a living parent, but with staggering unemployment and equally staggering inflation.  They are destitute.  Hungry.  No medical care.  No school. Tattered clothing. Little hope.

    That has changed dramatically over the last 3 years.  More and more children are being welcomed into the program and lives have been transformed!

    Through sponsorship (where one child is connected with one family here in the USA - $34 per month provides that child with a nutritious meal every day, clean water, clothing, medical care, education and Christian discipleship) our CarePoint provide basic needs for these kids along with love, encouragement and hope for the future.

    I lead a team of volunteers to Ethiopia each November and we work with these kids one-on-one, playing with them, laughing, hugging, touching and teaching.  We have personally seen the transformation in these kids when their basic needs are provided for and they have hope for their future.

    I will never forget being told by one of the kids at Kind Hearts, who scavenged in garbage for things to eat and things to sell.  "I ate garbage, I walked in garbage. I was garbage.... but I'm not garbage any more."  And I could look into his eyes, with tears welling up in my own and say ... "Oh you are most definitely NOT garbage."

    And it wasn't just empty words.  Through the provision of his sponsor family who loved him enough to provide for him ... and through the daily encouragement and love of the staff and teachers at the CarePoint and Children's HopeChest ... he already knew.  Knew it in his heart ... he was not garbage.

    There are still a few kids at Kind Hearts and Trees of Glory, who are waiting to be matched with a sponsor family.  Will you make a difference for one of these kids? 

    Please email me at kjwistrom@yahoo.com to be matched with a child. 

    We have a team of volunteers leaving for Ethiopia next week to work with the kids.  We have another team leaving in June, and I will be leading a team in November.  That's several opportunities yet this year when volunteers will be working with each child and can deliver a care-package to your child from you.

    Belyu, 10 years old
    BELYU NOW HAS A SPONSOR FAMILY!!

    Ayenalem, 9 years old
    AYENALEM NOW HAS A SPONSOR FAMILY!!

    Getahun, 15 years old
    GETAHUN NOW HAS A SPONSOR FAMILY!!

    Bertukan, 12 years old
    BERTUKAN NOW HAS A SPONSOR FAMILY!!

    Shibre, 7 years old
    SHIBRE NOW HAS A SPONSOR FAMILY!!

    Gelane, 12 years old
    GELANE NOW HAS A SPONSOR FAMILY!!
     
    Ashene, 14 years old
    ASHENE NOW HAS A SPONSOR FAMILY!!

    Fantaye, 8 years old
    FANTAYE NOW HAS A SPONSOR FAMILY!!

    Friday, March 15, 2013

    Updates from Ethiopia ...

    Our CarePoints in Ethiopia have had several visitors lately ... and one large team of volunteers is about to depart for Ethiopia.

    Paul Cooper (who was part of our team in November) is bringing his daughter home from Ethiopia right now and during his embassy trip, he visited Trees of Glory CarePoint again ... to see and encourage Simret (the director), to get a progress report on projects, to see his sponsor child Samrawit, and to have his newest daughter (Helina) and his oldest daughter see the CarePoint and meet all the kids!!!




    During our trip in November, Simret had shared with me one of her biggest challenges.  Trees of Glory is located about 2 hours North of Addis in a remote area.  Access to health care and basic supplies is very limited, especially without a vehicle.

    With so many children in her care, emergencies are inevitable.  And when an emergency occurs, they wait for transportation.

    Even the most basic food supplies are not available in the rural markets - and things like fruits and vegetables for a balanced and nutritious diet for the kids, are only available in the markets in Addis - which is two hours away.

    Simret travels to Addis every 9-10 days to purchase the bulk food supplies to feed 200 children!  She waits along the road, in the hot sun, sometimes as long as 3 hours, for a vehicle to come by and agree to take her to Addis.  A fee is negotiated (which is usually quite expensive for the long drive) and she is dropped off in the city.  She makes her way to the market, purchases the bulk supplies, and then negotiates with a driver in the city to take her and the supplies back to Trees of Glory.  Again a fee is negotiated and the long trek back to TOG ensues.  This simple trip to the market takes all day and is a large transportion expense.

    Children's HopeChest has begun the lengthy and complex process of budgeting and acquiring government permission to purchase a vehicle and once this process is complete - we will be fund-raising for a vehicle so that the CarePoint can be more independent and self-sufficient (and have a vehicle readily available for emergency situaitons!)  Please pray and consider helping us fund this very important project once we have the budget and plans in place.

    Paul is aware of this need from our visit in November, and so he decided to alleviate some of the pressure on Simret for one of her supply replenishing expeditions.  With his two daughters in tow, Paul began the adventure of purchasing and delivering bulk food supplies for Trees of Glory.  Nothing is as easy as it may seem on the surface (how hard can it be to get groceries in Ethiopia for 200 kids??? ).  Paul will provide an update upon his return from Ethiopia!!

    Photos of the Cooper girls (above and below), buying bulk food supplies for TOG. 


    To read more about Paul's visit to Trees of Glory (and see more great photos!), please click to the Cooper's excellent blog here  http://blog.jcooperphotography.com/2013/03/day-four/


    In addition - we have a large team of volunteers leaving for Ethiopia next week to work with the kids at Kind Hearts and Trees of Glory.  Joey Austin will be leading this team - and her team has generously offered to deliver a care-package to each child from their sponsor family.  Here is a photo from her as she packs for that trip!! 



    This team will also be delivering about 500 books to the library at Trees of Glory from an organization called Rescued Readers headed by Tammy Flowers!!  Slowly but surely we are equipping the library at Trees of Glory!!

    A photo from Paul Cooper of the TOG library which is about to receive
    500 more books from Rescued Readers.

    There are still a handful of children at Kind Hearts and Trees of Glory who are waiting for a sponsor family.  $34 per month provides nutritious food, clean water, clothing, medical care, education and Christian discipleship for one child.  If you are interested in sponsoring a child, please contact me at kjwistrom@yahoo.com.

    Tuesday, March 12, 2013

    Ethiopia Video from HopeChest

    During the recent Africa Conference at Children's HopeChest headquarters in Colorado, Tesfa (Ethiopia Country Director) shared updates with us on current projects as well as future projects, plans and expansion of the number of CarePoints serving children.



    There are presently 23 established CarePoints in Ethiopia and 15 more will be added in 2013!  Each of those new CarePoints are expected to serve 150 or more orphaned or destitute children!  That's over 2000 more children who will receive nutritious food, clean water, clothing, medical care, education and Christian discipleship through HopeChest sponsorship programs!!

     All photos provided by the very talented, Daniel Dubois!  Thank you Daniel!

     Tesfa and I had an opportunity to catch up on the projects underway at
    Kind Hearts and Trees of Glory and share vision and strategy for next steps.
     


    Ethiopia country Director, Tesfa with Karen Wistrom and Juree Wilson (Ethiopia Partner Coordinator for HopeChest).
     
    Below is a video produced by the HopeChest Ethiopia team.  Filmed and produced in Ethiopia in January 2013, it shows footage from several of the CarePoints.  There is quite a bit of footage from Trees of Glory and Kind Hearts including the recent well and water-point projects, livestock and poultry projects!  There is also a brief interview with Lisa Miller who was in Ethiopia and able to visit her sponsor child at Trees of Glory CarePoint.
     
     

    Ethiopia Documentary Film from Children's HopeChest on Vimeo.

    Sunday, March 10, 2013

    One of the Lucky Ones ...

    One of the big blessings that has come with having so many kids (nearly 400!) and so many sponsor families involved with our CarePoints (Kind Hearts and Trees of Glory), is that we often have a family travelling to Ethiopia each month!  That means a visit to the CarePoint which is an exciting day for the kids and the staff - and especially for the child who gets to meet their sponsor family!!!
     
    A photo of Mekdes from November when our team of volunteers delivered a care-package
    with photos of their sponsor family to each child at Trees of Glory and Kind Hearts.
     
    Lisa Miller sponsors Mekdes, a 9 year old little girl who attends Trees of Glory CarePoint.  Mekdes is from a very poor family who is barely able to provide for her, and so by attending TOG, she receives nutritious food, clean water, medical care, clothing, education and Christian discipleship through her sponsorship by the Miller family.  Mekdes and Lisa have written letters back and forth, but this would be the first time they two would meet face to face!!  Here are Lisa's words about that eventful day ...
     
    Travelling to Ethiopia is always an amazing experience, this time it was made even more special by visiting the Trees of Glory with Childrens HopeChest staff member Hilena. Although my daughter is just two and a half, I want to bring her back to Ethiopia to visit her homeland as often as I am able, For both of us, the visit to TOG was a wonderful way to make the trip even more meaningful.
     
    The drive through rolling hills is beautiful and relaxing. Once I reached the outskirts of Duber, I became very excited because I knew I was minutes away from meeting the staff and my dear Mekdes, whom I sponsor. I first saw the unassuming TOG signage and a guard let us in. We were met by the wonderful Simret, who works so hard to keep Trees of Glory a safe haven.
     
    Then my darling Mekdes was brought out. Although she lowered her eyes in shyness, she ran to me and hugged me so tightly. My daughter Medhanit danced around her, waiting for a turn to hug her. She continued hugging me for the next hour while I shared a letter and gifts with her.
     
    A photo of their first meeting, Lisa on the left with her arm around Mekdes. 
    Lisa's daughter reaching to touch Mekdes' face.  Hilena is standing, and Simret on the far right.
     
    Simret toured us around the compound, at each turn I was amazed at the additional growth. The library is beginning to take shape, the water is in place, the children's dorms, the chicken farm, the cows that provide milk, the playground, and the additional pieces of land that are beginning to form a garden.
     
    All of it shows the dedication and vision of Simret's dreams.  But she doesn't stop there, she continues to share what she hopes will continue to develop on the property. I witnessed child after child getting "Mama" hugs from her and beaming at the love they are showered with. The staff kindly prepared lunch for us, which included Shiro and our favorite Injera.
     
    Then we were able to go to Mekdes' home, which became my favorite part of the journey. We drove back to Duber Village, a town we passed on our way to TOG. It is a typical small village with narrow metal and wood shanty-type businesses and houses.
     
    We walked up to Mekdes' home, which turned out to be a bar. It was a small one-room bar, with just one kind of local alcohol served.
     
     
    Mekdes showed us her home with pride and introduced us to her family: her Mother, Father, Grandmother, and baby brother. Her Grandmother was very friendly, at one point she pulled off her head scarf to show me the long braids she was so proud of.
     
     
     
    It is a simple bar: plain walls, dirt floors, narrow wood benches, and a single shelf where the alcohol is kept. The villagers started poking their heads in the door out of curiosity, and soon many packed in the door to watch what was unfolding with our visit.
     
     
     
    The family lives together behind a curtain in one room. This means Mekdes, her parents, Grandmother, and her 2-year old baby brother have to try to eat, study, and sleep through the sounds of the men drinking and being noisy late at night through only a curtain that separates their small space from the bar.
     
    But as difficult as this is, Mekdes is one of the lucky ones. She has two parents who love her and believe in a girl's right to study and learn. Many of the kids in her neighborhood were wandering around all day or herding animals, because they are not so lucky. I'm sure they would love the chance to go to school and count on a daily nutritious meal, while someone shares affection and the love of God with them.
     
    Our visit ended with the opportunity for Hilena to share the word of God with the group of about 30 and for me to share a prayer with not only the family, but their neighbors who had joined us. It was with sadness, that we had to leave, I can't wait to get back and see my Mekdes, as well as the growth that I know will take place at TOG. It is such a blessing to be a part of this great place.

    Our next trip to Ethiopia is scheduled for November 15-25, 2013.  If you would like to join the team to work one-on-one with the kids at Kind Hearts and Trees of Glory, please contact me at kjwistrom@yahoo.com for trip details.

    My next blog post will include a video created by the HopeChest Ethiopia staff.  It shows the kids and many of the projects underway at Kind Hearts and Trees of Glory as well as other HopeChest Ethiopia CarePoints.  At the end of the video, it includes video of Lisa's visit to Trees of Glory and the time she spent with Mekdes.

    Thursday, March 7, 2013

    Wondering if they will have food that day...

     
    There are certain photos that capture my eye ... months later, I catch a glimpse of something that takes me back to Ethiopia with a vivid memory of that moment.
     
    As our team of volunteers spent individual time with every child at the CarePoints, there are some specific sweet reunions that take place.  For many of these kids, they only know their sponsor family through photos and letters.  And they are thankful and so proud to call this family their own.  They carry rumpled and creased photos in their pockets, and proudly show us, saying, "This is MY family!!"
     
    For a few kids, they have had the rare opportunity to meet their sponsor family - and it's a moment they treasure.  I see the kids on the first day we arrive - searching our faces and hoping they will recognize a face from the pictures they have studied for so long.  And even though their sponsor family may not be there, we take the time to read each letter slowly, and go through each photo with them so they feel like they know their sponsor family a little bit more....
     
    And for some kids, their sponsor family has travelled to Ethiopia year after year to see them - to hug them, and hold them, and tell them how much they are loved and treasured beyond measure...
     
    This is Hana who attend Kind Hearts CarePoint.  I snapped photos as she climbed into Becky's lap once again.  She beamed with pride, but this time there was a confidence about her that wasn't there before.  Little Hana nestled comfortably in Becky's lap this year, and I could read it in her body language ... she was happy, and comfortable and confident.  She feels loved and she has hope and confidence in her future ....
     

    Last year, I mentioned Hana in a blog post because she was the little girl that spotted underpants in her care-package.  Before Becky could finish reading her letter, Hana slid off her lap and pulled on those underpants right then and there (because she did not have any underpants and this was a rare and exciting luxury!!)



    This was Hana's profile photo from when she first started attending Kind Hearts CarePoint for nutritious food, clean water, clothing, medical care, education and Christian discipleship.  When we work with the kids at the CarePoints, we can immediately recognize the kids that have just enrolled. 

    They are malnourished, and often sickly.  They don't yet have confidence that their next meal will be reliable and consistent and they have little hope for the future.  We can see it in their eyes and in their body language as they watch the food like little hawks, wondering if they will have food that day.


    It's only after attending the CarePoint for a few months and being showered with love and attention, and reliable and consistent meals, that they start to smile regularly and play and laugh.  They are finally able to step out of survival mode - and they start to thrive!

    That's the beautiful thing about sponsorship at one of our Children's HopeChest CarePoints.  Your $34 per month, changes the life of a child, and sets them on a path full of hope!  There are still a few kids at Kind Hearts and Trees of Glory CarePoints that are waiting for a sponsor family.  If you are interested in sponsoring a child, please contact me at kjwistrom@yahoo.com.