Stories from the field

Stories collected by our field staff – real people with real stories.

Former sponsored child builds on his own empowerment to help others

By Elizabeth Hendley | July 10, 2017

Tipu Azad, 22, leads a group of children in games at the park in his neighborhood. (©2017 World Vision/photo by Eugene Lee)

A pair of dumbbells hits the floor as Tipu Azad finishes a set of chest presses. The disciplined 22-year-old, a former sponsored child, works out most mornings at the gym, moving from one machine to the next in a circuit-training plan.

It’s a utilitarian space — more like a boxing gym than L.A. Fitness — that matches the feel of his no-frills neighborhood in southeast Delhi. Most families here live in poverty, but enough have crossed an economic threshold to where they, like Tipu, have some disposable income to pay for a gym membership.

After finishing his workout, Tipu strolls through the maze of narrow concrete streets back to his home. With a haircut modeled after soccer star David Beckham and a cell phone in his pocket that captures frequent selfies, he waves hello to neighbors and friends he passes.

He shares a four-story home with five brothers, one sister, and their parents, who brought the family to Delhi in 1995 from Bhojpur, a small city in Bihar state about 620 miles away.

An unexpected byproduct of their move: access to World Vision’s presence in Delhi, which has helped each family member flourish. Eldest brother Saddham was sponsored at age 5; now 23, he’s a graphic designer. Sixteen-yearold Amir still has a sponsor in the U.S.

World Vision’s economic empowerment programs also helped transform the family’s future. Because they had tailoring experience, Tipu’s parents, Nasima and Mohammad, received sewing machines to start a business from their home. Their workshop is now a hub of activity with two sewing machines that barely rest. “The entire neighborhood are our customers,” Nasima says with a laugh.

Tipu was sponsored at age 7. But as a younger teenager, he got involved with the wrong crowd — skipping school, loitering, and teasing girls. All that changed when he began spending more time with staff at World Vision’s center in his neighborhood. “It was a mindset shift,” he says. “It’s about taking negative things and making them positive.”

It was a mindset shift. It’s about taking negative things and making them positive —Tipu Azad

All seven siblings have embraced a variety of World Vision programs and workshops. Children’s clubs help them develop leadership skills and a passion for helping others; self-defense training for Heena, the only daughter in the family, inspires confidence; drama performances teach creative expression. Even the library at the World Vision center shaped Tipu’s future by stimulating his appetite for books. He became a regular visitor, checking out novels, biographies, fables, and language instruction books.

Because of his transformative experience as a sponsored child, Tipu started volunteering for a local nonprofit organization in 2011. Soon, he was hired as a full-time staff member in their South Delhi office, teaching children about health, how to respect their parents, social and emotional learning, sports, and the importance of education.

“There are small kids — 6 and 7 years old — smoking, drinking, stealing, not going to school,” he says — ample opportunity for him to make a difference in their lives.

Once encouraged by World Vision staff, Tipu now helps children who aren’t in school with tutoring so they can enroll. (©2017 World Vision/photo by Eugene Lee)

Every day, he facilitates two two-hour sessions for local children. Today, a dozen kids form a circle in the neighborhood park, and Tipu leads them in a song about good hygiene habits before playing a few games and working on soccer skills. The sessions are a hodgepodge of educational activities and games, and through it all Tipu builds trust and reinforces that he’s available for the kids whenever they need him.

He’s proud to be a leader in his community. “A train has both cars and an engine,” he says. “A lot of people say they want to be leaders, but not many do.”

Inspired by a World Vision staff member, several years ago Tipu switched the focus of his college studies from communications to social work, receiving a bachelor’s degree in 2016. He’s now working toward a master’s in social work.

Exhausted from the two kids’ sessions and his own coursework, Tipu ends the day with his siblings. They crowd into their parents’ workshop, joking and talking over one another. Bolstered by their affection and care for each other, the tight-knit family has shone their warmth outward into their community.

“We want two things for our kids,” says their father, reading glasses perched on his nose. “Character — that they be soft-spoken, behave in the proper way, and have good manners. And studying — that they will do something and stand on their own two feet.”

With World Vision’s help and encouragement, Tipu has fulfilled his father’s hopes — and he’s helping other children reach their own potential.

Support children like Tipu, who deserves the opportunity to live healthily and to realise their dreams they never thought of. You can help turn a child’s life better and fill it with so much hope by Sponsoring A Child .

World Toilet Day goes to school

By Kathryn Reid | November 17,2014

For much of the world, a shortage of toilets is not just an inconvenience, it’s a matter of life and death.

Forty percent of the people on earth — 2.5 billion of the world’s 7 billion men, women, and children — go through their day without improved sanitation. One billion people defecate in the open — in fields, forests, or rivers.

It’s no surprise that the highest death rates for children under 5 occur where open defecation is common. The same places lag behind in social and economic growth, security, gender equity, and care for the environment.

If you want to change the world, it’s not enough to give someone a functioning toilet and sink. They have to understand its value, keep it clean and maintained, and use it.

To improve the lives of children, World Vision provides clean water, toilets, and hygiene training in many schools around the world.

School girls walk to the toilet block built by World Vision at Simwami Community School in Zambia. In developing countries it’s important for girls to have separate toilets that are clean and safe to access so they can stay in school after they reach adolescence. | © 2014 Jon Warren, World Vision

Good hygiene is part of the learning experience at Ude Kindergarten #2 in the nation of Georgia. New indoor flush toilets are a vast improvement over the unheated, outdoor latrines they replaced. School enrollment has increased since the toilets were installed. | © 2014 Michelle Siu, World Vision

Tick, 8, is proud of having a toilet at her home in Laos. “My sister and me are not absent from school like before because we are healthy,” she says. Now she knows about handwashing, and she no longer runs to the forest to relieve herself, risking run-ins with disease-carrying mosquitoes and snakes. | ©2014 Ammala Thomisith, World Vision

Students at Pi Tnou secondary school in Cambodia clean toilets. World Vision supported the school with a water tank so they can have clean water for drinking, washing, and watering their vegetable garden. | © 2013 Sopheak Kong, World Vision

And don’t forget to wash your hands! Primary school students in Myanmar learn the importance of cleanliness and handwashing using school facilities. World Vision provided the school with latrines, a concrete water tank, and a classroom building. | ©2014 Khaing Min Htoo, World Vision

Support children like these, where World Vision focuses in long term sustainability of the community which elevates them from poverty. You can help turn a child’s life better and filled it with so much hope by Sponsoring A Child or donate to World Vision’s Clean Water Fund today!

I know how to read, write and become a chef!!!

Hoang Thuy Chung, Communications Officer, World Vision Vietnam | 16 March  2017

That is the greatest joy of Mai Van Son – an orphan boy born in 1998, living with his grandmother at Lac Vien Ward, Ngo Quyen District, Hai Phong city.

Just a few years ago, Son was a thin boy with eyes always looking down and his smile was never seen blooming on the lips. He did not know how to read accented letters, did not know how to write his name, no parents since he was 8 years old, no more than two sets of clothing, whether in summer or in cold winter, and he has never known what a full stomach is like…

For Son, he had nothing except one thing – dream. He dreamed of becoming a chef and had a job to support his grandmother. But how to make dreams come true, he did not know.

Everyday, he held his grandmother’s hand to wander around the market to beg for small changes. At night, he made little money by playing games online. Son’s life and dream would have elapsed day by day in his boarding house if one day, Ms. Nhung – the chairwoman of women’s union in Lac Vien ward hadn’t come to see him.

She wore a blue shirt with lots of strange letters on her back that he could not read.

She guided Son to the children house of culture in Ngo Quyen district to participate a life skills training class held by the district women’s union and World Vision Vietnam. There, the first time he realized that he also had a strong point of honesty. The first time he cried when talking about his life. The first time he belonged to a place called Khat vong thanh cong (Desire to Success) Club.

And when he knew his dream would be supported by the Youth Livelihood project, he also realized that the ability of reading and writing would make his dream less difficult.

Since then, in the ragged hive sandals, he walked through the long distance to participate all the extracurricular exercises and became a core member, a striker for the Khat vong thanh cong football club.

He was in the habit of life skills classes, volunteering in the kitchen of a restaurant to become familiar with the work of a chef. He no longer came to the internet shop but concentrating on the evening classes supported by Ms. Thuong and Ms. Ngoc. He began to be able to read cooking textbooks.

Son studied with the help of Ms. Thuong

These efforts have been recorded and approved to support training by People’s Committee of Ngo Quyen district and World Vision Vietnam.

Sparkling eyes and bright smile when looking forward, he excitedly said: “Since I came to school, I did not quit even one day. The dish I cook best is butter fried squid, I will make this delicious dish in the final exam”.

One more month of intense training, Son graduated with that butter fried squid and became a chef. Starting with low positions in the kitchens, Son has advanced through 3 or 4 places, higher salary one after the other. Now Son is working as a chef in a duck restaurant.

All monthly salary is handed to his grandmother to keep. She doesn’t have to go out on the street anymore. They still stay in his uncle’s small house but with new beds. Son also purchased an electric bike to get to work. His next goal is a new house for him and grandmother.

Son’s kitchen job is super busy, not a free lunch or dinner time, especially in weekends. But he takes any available time to attend contests, social events and major activities of the club and the project. He remains reading and writing well.

“Now I know what the words on her back were, dare to think – dare to do – dare to succeed”, said Son with a big smile on his lips.

Support people like Son, where World Vision focuses in long term sustainability of the community which elevates them from poverty. You can help turn a child’s life better and filled it with so much hope by Sponsoring A Child or donate to World Vision’s Education Fund today!

How bikes are improving children’s education in South Africa

By Andrew Newmarch, Senior Portfolio Advisor – Southern Africa Team

How long did it take you to get to school when you were a child? In the old days kids usually walked to school, but today, it seems that many students get dropped off by their parents in SUVs. In Malaysia, life has definitely changed. The thought of letting your child walk 4-5 kms to school on their own would be unheard of.

In places like South Africa, this is the only way children can get to school to receive an education. But because of your child sponsorship, World Vision is changing this for thousands of children across the country.

Take this High School in the Giyani project of north-east South Africa for instance.

While in South Africa, I met Alive (yes, his real name!) He and his mates walk about four km’s each way to school every day. Not only is this unsafe, it means that students are spending most of their time travelling when they could be doing their homework or playing with friends. However, for Alive, this is not a long way compared to other students at his school.

“In fact, in South Africa as a whole, 11 million of the 17 million school children walk to school, with 500,000 of them spending more than four hours a day getting to and from school.”

An even bigger picture reveals that South Africa was placed 115th out of 144 countries with regard to children’s access to primary schools. It’s no wonder that only 40% of children who enrol in Grade one achieve a qualification higher than Grade nine.

So what is World Vision doing?

We have partnered with Qhubeka, World Bicycle Relief’s program, to provide bikes to students across our child sponsorship projects.

In the Giyani project where I visited last year, I participated in the unloading and registration of 490 bikes going to students, including sponsored children.

“When it all started, bikes only went to girls to be able to get to school. It was about access and opportunity. But because of the success, a shift has occurred to provide bikes to boys as well based on distance from school.”

Students undertake a contract to not only maintain the bike but to go to school – part of the incentive is that after two years they can keep the bike if they attend a sufficient amount of school in that time. They are also given basic maintenance training as well as a, helmet, padlock and pump.

How do I know it will make a difference?

Based on two other projects, their results show that attendance has increased from 35% to 82%, homework completed each day has increased from 24% to 88% and travel time has decreased for 72% of the students with bicycles to less than an hour.

Not only are fewer children missing important classes, the number of children who feel safe travelling to school has more than doubled.

But that’s not all. The bicycles are helping out our staff too.

Singita is one of the Community Care Agents who recently received a bicycle from World Vision. Singita, along with other volunteers like herself work with World Vision to monitor the needs of community members and sponsored children.

“Before I had a bike, I used to visit only five families a day, but now I can cover up to 12 families in a day,” she told me.

It’s great to see that the provision of a bike can transform the way the community operates and have such a significant impact on a child’s safety and education.

“For those 490 students now on bicycles in the Giyani project, I have no doubt they are on their way to a better education.”

Since I visited the Giyani project last year, the program has worked so well in that another 1,200 bikes will be delivered there this year. In addition, another 900 have been promised to the two other World Vision Sponsorship projects, Umzimkhulu and Ixopo, in 2016.

Support children like Alive, who deserves the opportunity to live healthily and to realise their dreams they never thought of. You can help turn a child’s life better and fill it with so much hope by Sponsoring A Child .

World Vision heals a broken heart

By Mong Jimenez, Field Communication Specialist

On the day of hearts, let us discover the journey of a little girl who battled a severe heart condition. Thanks to World Vision, she was given the opportunity to heal her broken heart.

Crystal, then 7 years old, and her grandmother Dolores, who raised her since she was an infant.

It was 7 AM in Negros Occidental, Philippines. The morning sun had just emerged from behind the towering Mount Canlaon. Children with newly washed hair and bulky bags were heading to school – excitement and joy evident on their faces. One girl, however, sat idly outside her home as she watched her playmates pass by. She had been missing class for days already.

Crystal was 7 years old when we met her. A thin girl with tousled hair, she was mostly quiet. On that particular morning, she was worried because she was not able to submit her homework that was due three days ago. A run of dry cough broke her silence.

In the kitchen, Crystal’s grandmother Dolores was busy cooking scrambled eggs for breakfast but her mind was preoccupied with something else. “Crystal has been missing her classes because of her condition,” the grandmother worriedly shared. “It gets worse every day.”

Crystal has always been sickly. Her grandmother volunteered to raise and take care of her while both her parents work away from home. Her father, Ferdinand, is a security guard who earns the minimum wage each day. Her mother used to be a house helper but she stopped working to take care of Crystal’s siblings.

Crystal was accustomed to her recurring ailments. She usually went to school despite enduring a dry cough or a mild fever. But there were also days when she was forced to miss classes because of a severe flu or breathing complications.

Crystal was diagnosed with a congenital heart disease that causes many serious ailments like flu and pneumonia.

Worried about her granddaughter’s ailment, Dolores accompanied Crystal to the city hospital for a check-up. She was devastated when she learned that Crystal was diagnosed with a congenital heart disease. “According to the attending doctor, the heart disease was already present when she was born,” Dolores discussed. “It is the reason why she often got sick even when she was still an infant.”

The attending physician recommended a heart operation at the most immediate time to prevent other serious ailments to develop.

Dolores felt discouraged, knowing that a single heart operation would be too expensive for their family to afford. Crystal’s parents could not even buy a plane ticket to Manila, where the only public hospital that can offer cardiac surgery is located. Crystal’s parents were also shocked when they discovered the check-up result.

Every week that passed by was a struggle for Crystal and her family. Their accumulated savings were not enough to shoulder the heart operation and Crystal’s health got weaker significantly.

The situation seemed hopeless.

But somehow, a glimpse of hope shined upon Crystal when child-focused organization World Vision selected her as a sponsored child. She and thousands of other children in her community began benefiting from the organization’s development projects in education, health and nutrition, economic development, and disaster risk reduction. The sponsored children also became involved in regular child monitoring activities.

World Vision staff closely monitored Crystal after they learned about her condition. The organization helped shoulder her check-up and medical expenses whenever she developed a flu or a severe cough.

A World Vision Malaysia Youth Mobiliser plays with Crystal during a Philippine trip last November 2015.

On November 2015, a team from World Vision Malaysia visited Crystal’s community. They were saddened to hear about her condition during an interaction activity and left Crystal’s house full of sympathy and purpose. Crystal and her family were hopeful that help would come.

The World Vision team brought Crystal’s story to Malaysia and initiated a fundraising campaign for her heart operation. Thankfully, many supported the project and the team raised more than enough to cover Crystal’s heart procedure, including the hospital and transportation expenses. A schedule for a heart operation was set.

Crystal always carried her stuffed toy during her stay at the hospital.

On January 20 this year, Crystal, her grandmother, her father, and a World Vision Philippines staff travelled to Manila for Crystal’s heart operation.

The child, who has turned a year older, was admitted at the Philippine General Hospital (PGH) in preparation for her operation. She had to undergo several laboratory tests. According to her grandmother, Crystal remained calm and silent throughout the process. She carried a stuffed toy to make herself comfortable.

The day of Crystal’s operation finally arrived. Everyone in the room hoped and prayed for positive results. At around 7 AM, Crystal was brought to the operating room with her Lola Dolores at her side.

After three long hours, the family’s prayers were finally answered. An overwhelming feeling washed over Ferdinand when he heard that the operation was a success.

Today, Crystal and her grandmother are staying in Manila so they can return conveniently to PGH for regular check-ups. Their rent is also covered by the donated money. According to Dolores, Crystal can already walk and eat properly. She has become more energetic.

“This is an answered prayer,” Dolores zealously shared. “We never thought that God would use World Vision and other generous people to help Crystal. This is the greatest help that we have ever received and we will forever be grateful to everyone who made this possible.”

Support children like Crystal, who deserves the opportunity to live healthily and to realise their dreams they never thought of. You can help turn a child’s life better and fill it with so much hope by Sponsoring A Child .

Changing the role of a father in his family

A growing and overwhelming body of evidence confirms that engaged fatherhood is good for children, good for women and good for men themselves. But many fathers don’t know it.

In the majority of Sri Lankan families, cooking, feeding, washing, cleaning and of course, bringing up children is a woman’s responsibility. The man is little involved in the lives of his wife and children. The disengagement of men in the well-being of their families often paves the way to isolation, domestic violence and abuse.

“I used to think that bringing up my children and doing chores at home were my wife’s responsibility,” says Christopher, 31. “My wife would get up early in the morning, cook for the family and get the children ready for pre-school and daycare before she went for work; I would sleep through all of it, wake up late and go to work. After work I would go and play sports with my friends, and if I had some money, go for booze (alcohol) as well. None of us saw anything wrong in this lifestyle.”

Christopher with his wife and family.

Christopher’s wife Vijayakala didn’t see anything wrong in it either. It was normal and she just had to bear it.

Christopher comes from a community of tea estate labourers in the Central Hills of Sri Lanka where domestic violence is the highest (72%) in the country (World Health Organisation study). In his community, women plucked tea from morning till evening in any kind of weather while men worked in the factory only till 2:00 in the afternoon. The rest of the evening most got drunk. It added to the issue of domestic violence and abuse.

“I never listened to my wife’s opinion. So even over very small matters we argued a lot. I would even beat her sometimes. I was the boss,” Christopher says, “With my daughter, it was the same. She is four and if she asked for toys I would spank her.”

When World Vision began to work among tea estate communities, domestic violence and child abuse was identified as one of the biggest issues. Domestic violence is normalised and trivialised in Sri Lankan culture and even the women themselves believe it is normal. An old Sri Lankan Proverb says, “There are three things that can be beaten: a drum, a dog, and a woman.” And another – “Don’t let the outsiders know the fire inside your house” keeps victims silent. A survey conducted by an International Organisation in 2013 revealed that 58% of women agreed that ‘a woman should tolerate violence to keep the family together.’

Bringing awareness and empowering women alone wasn’t enough to solve the issue. It was important that both men and women were brought together to contribute to the solution.

World Vision, with the support of Promundo International, introduced the MenCare Project, which is designed to promote men’s involvement as caregivers in the lives of their partners and children. The sessions cover a variety of topics such as gender equality, family life, alcoholism, financial planning and child protection and development. A special session on family enrichment helps interaction between husbands and wives and helps them solve issues and start life again.

“The sessions changed my whole perspective on marriage and family,” smiles Christopher. “I started to share the chores at home – helping children get ready in the morning and doing laundry. I don’t argue anymore at home either. I have learnt to have conversations with my wife and my children without yelling or beating. I can see that it has changed my daughter from being afraid of me to being more relaxed around me. I didn’t know that being involved in their lives could be so rewarding.”

“Before the Project I used to allocate money from my salary for booze because I thought it was my right. But now I have stopped drinking and smoking completely,” he says. “Surprisingly it gives me more stamina to work. My wife and I plan our expenses for the month and we have been able to pay off all the debt, open savings accounts for the children and even buy a gas stove.”

After work, Christopher now spends most evenings with his wife and children. “I help my daughter with her crafts or any other work she’s brought from pre-school. Then I put on some music for her to dance to. She loves to dance,” he smiles.

Similar changes are evident in every father who took part in the MenCare Project. “They have developed the habit of saving and are more involved in the lives of their children,” says A Jeyaram, the Estate Manager of Ouvahkellei Estate where Christopher lives and works. “Domestic violence has started to disappear from their homes, alcoholism and smoking has significantly gone down among the workers of our Estate and productivity has increased by 25% compared to previous years.”

An evaluation conducted among the fathers (between 25 – 40 years) who participated in the Project indicated that  69% have reduced alcohol consumption, 66% support their partners in household activities and are engaged in the lives of their children,while 72% now prepare their monthly budget with their partner.

“But this change is not always easy,” says Christopher. “Some of my friends call me a sissy for helping my wife with house chores. They don’t understand why I don’t go drinking anymore.”

However, Christopher and the others from the Project have begun to share their knowledge with others in their community, becoming activists in preventing violence against women and children; they have already begun to see the changes.

“I can see some of them changing and I see the joy in their wives and children and even neighbours,” he says, “Every father should go through the MenCare Project.”

This story was featured on wvi.org

A Father’s Love

by Ramon Lucas Jimenez, Field Communications Specialist, World Vision Philippines

How do we measure a father’s love? Is it the amount of food he sets on the table for his family? Is it the beautiful and expensive material things he gives to his children? Or is it the attention he gives to his family and the quality time he spends with his children?

For Mark, an eight-year-old boy from a rural community in the southern part of Cebu, Philippines, a father’s love can be measured by the simple things his father does for him and his older brother to make them feel loved and special.

Despite being raised in a simple home, Mark has no problem being happy and cheerful every day, because his father is always there to provide him with his basic needs.

Aside from being supported by World Vision’s child sponsorship programme, the genuine love of their father helps Mark and his older brother live a life that is full.

Each day, his father wakes him and his brother up and lets them prepare for school. While they take a bath in a makeshift bathroom in their backyard, his father prepares food for their breakfast and for their packed lunches.

Mark enjoys breakfast time because they eat together and his father always prepares his favourite meal, fried eggplant.

After breakfast, his father often walks with him to school, which is just a stone’s throw away from their house. His father sometimes waits for Mark outside his school if he is not busy attending to his small vegetable and fish farm. He also helps his sons with their assignments at night before he tucks them into bed.

Single father

Chris, Mark’s father, has never left their village since he was born there. He is a farmer, a trade he learned from his father. He grows root crops, fruit trees and farm animals as a means of earning income.

Chris’ wife left their family. For years, Chris has singlehandedly raised his two sons with a father’s sustaining providence and a mother’s loving care.

It is also in their small village where he met a woman who eventually became his wife and the mother of his two sons. They were a complete and happy family then.

After more than 10 years of being married, Chris’s livelihood was not flourishing. Being a man who hadn’t set foot in college, his capability for supporting his family is limited to the meagre income he earns after he sells his harvests.

Hardships continued to follow, which made Chris’s wife leave for a decent-paying job in a distant city. After years of working away from her family, she never came back.

“She found another one,” shares Chris. “I wasn’t mad at her. All I thought about after I heard the news was the welfare of my children, now that they didn’t have a mother.”

Chris promised himself that he would double his efforts to provide for the needs of his two sons.

Being a loving father, Chris also makes sure that the motherly needs of his sons are attended to. He talks to them and guides them if they have problems in school; he also cooks for them and makes sure that they are nourished.

“I still want my children to feel a mother’s love. That is why I try my best to provide it to them. Sometimes when I am busy, I send them to their grandmother,” adds Chris.

World Vision helps Chris

Chris was thankful when he found out that his eldest son’s education would be sponsored by World Vision. His son is provided with school materials and timely gifts. Chris also shares the gifts with his youngest son, Mark.

“World Vision is a big help to our family, especially in my kids’ education,” says Chris.

Loving father

Indeed, Mark and his older brother are blessed to have a loving and caring father. They still visit their mother, who has already settled with a new family. But for them, their papa Chris is enough for them as their father and mother.

“Love nako si Papa kay palangga ko niya (I love my father because he takes care of me),” says Mark while sitting beside his father.

The power of a letter and prayer

By Phil Manzano, with contributions by Annila Harris

Maya beams with new light since overcoming her illness and returning to school.

Deep in the slums of New Delhi, in a gray and dusty landscape of crowded, weathered apartments, hope seemed far off for 9-year-old Maya.

Even in this impoverished setting, Maya was considered a nobody. She suffered epileptic seizures; as her mom looked on, helpless and scared, Maya’s legs and arms stiffened and her mouth foamed.  After a few epileptic episodes at school, Maya was told to stay home.

Maya feared the seizures, which would strike anytime. Her father, a labourer, and her mother scraped together what they could to buy medicine. Desperate, they took out loans and even visited a witch doctor.

But nothing seemed to slow Maya’s downward spiral. The longer she stayed away from school, the further she fell behind in her studies. The more withdrawn she became, the more she stopped caring for herself. Teased and bullied by older girls, Maya languished.

“I used to sit around and there was nothing to do,” Maya says. “I used to feel like my head was heavy all the time. I used to be with my mother most of the time. I didn’t go out much.”

Until one day, hope arrived — in the form of a letter sent 7,000 miles, from a grandmother in Spokane, Washington, who took Maya under her wing.

Kay Yoke was attending a Women of Faith conference when she came across Maya’s picture and information at a World Vision sponsorship table. Kay’s mother had recently passed away and Maya was born on the same day as her mom. Kay thought sponsoring Maya seemed like a great way to honour her memory.

About once a month, Kay sits at her dining room table to pen a letter to Maya. Kay’s granddaughter is about the same age as Maya, so she writes to her as she would her own granddaughter.

In her letters, Kay asks about Maya and her family, she asks about her health, she asks about the weather — but Kay also asks about Maya’s aspirations and dreams. She fills her letters with affirmations, encouragement, and prayers. Sometimes, she includes a small gift, like hair ribbons or a photo.

“She wrote about praying for me and my family, that she prays for my family,” Maya says. “I remember that, I felt very good and when I read that letter, I cried. Tears just came.”

Maya holds onto those letters like a lifeline. She cherishes and keeps them in a tidy bundle tied together with ribbon. Maya always writes back immediately, thanking the woman she calls “my Kay” for the prayers and gifts. One time, Maya included a gift of her own, a bracelet for Kay.

From the stoop of her apartment, above the din, Maya reads one of Kay’s letters:

Dear Maya,

I just received your beautiful letter. Thank you very much for the [bracelets]. They are beautiful and I will treasure them forever.
I show them to everyone and I tell them that my girl in India sent these to me and I love her.
I’m so happy to read that your studies are going good…I pray for you, your brothers and your mother and father every day.
Keep smiling every day, Maya. You have a wonderful smile that makes me very happy.

Love to you,
Kay

As she sits with the letter, Maya begins to weep, remembering how those simple words have changed her life.

In her heart she receives a greater gift, something stronger and more enduring: the knowledge that someone believes in her and cares for her, who tells her she is somebody.

“The prayers of my sponsor have healed me,” Maya says. “Yes, it’s because of Kay. Kay said, ‘Don’t fear. Count on God and everything will be okay.’ I listened to Kay.”

It’s been about three years since Kay found Maya. And the girl who had retreated into a shell has emerged.

She has returned to school and attends the local World Vision tuition center regularly. The once listless, fearful girl now writes and studies Hindi, English, and science. She even attended Life School Training Development classes where she learned about child rights, hygiene, and the ill effects of alcohol and tobacco.  She’s taking care of herself and has found her voice, speaking at World Vision youth events.

“It’s so good to hear that,” Kay says from her home in Spokane. She was not fully aware of how deep an impact her letters have had on Maya. “It really inspires me to do even more.”

As much as Maya anticipates her letters, Kay says she also looks forwards to letters from Maya. Maya’s photo is on Kay’s fridge and when the grandchildren come over she shares the latest letters from Maya with them.

“She’s part of our family,” Kay says. “My whole family knows who Maya is.”

“To me it is just amazing, she’s on the other side of the world and we have a connection.”

And it all started with a letter and a prayer.

This story was featured in an issue of World Vision Magazine.

How one mother’s determination helped her daughter go to university

What unites parents around the world is their dreams for their children – and just what they’re willing to do to see them fulfilled. In some places, that’s harder than most.

When Nozipho was born, her mother Mariah was on her own, a single mum with five other children to take care of.

That was in 1988. Due to a scarcity of transport in her part of Swaziland, Mariah had to give birth at home; there was no one to help her. Despite the difficulties, Mariah decided to call her last born Nozipho – meaning gift.

Mariah and her daughter Nozipho

Nozipho was a sweet little girl from the very beginning and everybody in the family loved her. She was very smart in school, topping other students year after year.

Amidst the hardship, Mariah was determined that her children should remain in school, even though there were times when the family went to sleep without eating food for days.

To cope, Mariah started farming, assisted by her six children who would weed and take care of the cotton plants until harvest time. With the money she received, Mariah made sure that there was food in the house, the children had clothes and their school fees were paid.

Nozipho and two of her siblings were also sponsored by World Vision which assisted the family – without the presence of World Vision in her community, Mariah would have struggled to keep her daughter in secondary school.

Nozipho certainly made the most of the opportunity. After graduating high school in 2004, Nozipho was accepted into university, where she embarked on a journalism and mass communications diploma. The Swazi government awarded her a scholarship for her three years of study. Now, Nozipho was able to support her mother.

During her first year at the university, Nozipho gave Mariah some of her government allowance to help buy wiring material for electricity installation. “It has been my wish to have electricity at home,” says Nozipho. Later, she was also able to give her mother money to plant maize so she could produce enough food for the family, as well as a 10,000 litre water tank.

Over the years, Mariah has benefited from various World Vision projects, using them to increase her skills – and help the local community. She remembers being taught how to make water harvesters using one bag of cement to help cope with times of low rainfall, a common problem in her area. With the skill she acquired, Mariah even assisted her neighbours and other people from other community to build water harvesters.

“I am always grateful to World Vision for the assistance that my family received over the years,” she says. As well as food rations and basics for the children, Mariah received a goat and fruit trees. In fact, the trees are doing so well, says Mariah that “every year they give fruits in abundance and we even sell some to our neighbours.”

Since Nozipho finished her post-secondary education, she has been working for a construction firm. With her salary, she is assisting her mother to take care of her six grandchildren who were left orphans after two of her children died.

As Nozipho looks to the future, she hopes to start her own consultancy firm. She is grateful to be able to take care of her ageing mother and her grandchildren.

This story was featured on worldvision.com.au

His sister’s keeper: Protecting kids from child sacrifice

by Kari Costanza

When my son, Nick was 6, he began taking a school bus to his babysitter’s house after school. Thinking of Nick walking a block down the hill to Barb’s house frightened me. Until then, he’d walked everywhere with his dad and me, usually holding our hands.

“Nick,” I told him sternly, “When you get off that bus, you cross the street and run to Barb’s house. Do not look right. Do not look left. Do not talk to anyone you see on the way. Just run.”

Those first few days Nick took the bus, I’d leave work and sneak up behind in my car just to make sure Nick followed directions. He did. He looked neither right nor left and ran like the dickens. My worries abated.

Those memories flooded back yesterday when I met 9-year-old David in Uganda. David and his family live in what’s referred to as the “heart of witchcraft” in Uganda.

Witchcraft is in plain sight here in Buikwe, a district east of the capital city, Kampala. Behind many homes are tin- or thatched-roofed huts. Inside are the tools of witchcraft—animal carcasses, shells from nearby Lake Victoria, and doves cooing softly, awaiting slaughter.

Like many in this lakeside community, David’s father, Paul, was a fisherman. His mother worked in gardens, often leaving her children home alone. Two years ago, David and his little sister, Sharon, were brushing their teeth under a coffee plant in the front yard. That’s when the strangers approached.

“Two men came here and started calling us,” says David. “I told Sharon to run. I ran.” He points down a path that leads to more homes. Sharon, a toddler, could not keep up. The men captured her, pressing chloroform to her face to silence her cries.

9-year-old David and his 4-year-old sister Sharon. (Photo: Jon Warren/World Vision)

Child sacrifice is an abomination. Abductors are middlemen between people desperate—for money, to bear children, or to rid their bodies of disease. Witchdoctors convince them that only a child’s body part, such as the head, the fingers, or the private parts, mixed with traditional medicine, will cure the problem. Ritual demands that the parts be removed while the child is still alive and conscious.

On the day we met David, we learned that 6-year-old Trevor was being buried in a nearby community. Trevor had gone missing the previous Friday. His body was found yesterday without his tongue or genitals. Trevor’s mom is a widow.

Abductors prey on vulnerable families, like Trevor’s, waiting until the child is alone to abduct them. Trevor was buried next to his father. As the grieving relatives departed, family friends leveled the cement over his small grave, encasing him in earth. Trevor was the second child in this area to be sacrificed this year.

World Vision’s Amber Alert-style program is taking on child sacrifice in Uganda. The program is ingenious in the way it has created a radical partnership between leaders of all faiths, law enforcement, local government, child protection committees, and traditional healers.

This diverse group has reached out with the message that stopping child sacrifice is everyone’s responsibility. Faith leaders have created a radio program that airs messages about child sacrifice, good parenting, and taking care of one’s neighbors. Betty Nandawula, a Catholic, and Umar Mukisa, a Muslim, co-host a live call-in program about family relationships, taking on topics such as domestic violence and parenting. The traditional healers have started their own radio program, trying to protect children and to ferret out the witchdoctors who kill them.

When a child is abducted, the community is ready. Villagers are taught to intervene, and, if that doesn’t work, to sound the alarm. Seventy-three villages are equipped with drums that beat out a special rhythm and megaphones that carry the sound across the miles. Motorcycles block off exit routes and logs are laid across pathways to stop the abductors.

The Amber Alert program uses drums to alert the community when a child goes missing. (Photo: Jon Warren/World Vision)

It works. Eight children have been saved this year from child sacrifice. When they were abducted, the community responded. Villagers began combing the green fields, searching for the children. The abductors, apparently frightened, dumped the children and fled.

That’s what happened to Sharon. When her brother, David, saw the men, he was afraid. He ran until he found a man with a cell phone. It was his neighbor, Chiwa.

“Chiwa knew what to do,” says Mary Nakibuka of the child protection committee. “He informed other members,” she says. “Another child protection committee member heard David screaming. He made a phone call to get the message on the megaphone. It said, ‘[Paul] Buka’s child has been abducted.’ Motorcycles blocked the highways. Because the megaphone was heard by the abductors, they dropped her.”

Sharon is safe. She’s 4 now. Family life has changed. Today the children go everywhere with their parents. Their father, Paul, no longer fishes but farms so that he can stay at home.

I asked David why he ran away from the men. He responded that his mother told him not to talk to strangers. I asked Mary later about David. “Why did he run? Do children know about child sacrifice?” She nodded. David knew exactly what could have happened.

Remembering how Nick would run from the bus stop to the babysitter’s home, and how I used to spy on him, made me consider the lengths parents go to protect their children. World Vision goes to the same efforts, helping parents in Uganda protect their children through the Amber Alert.

The project continues to expand. Next, it will create or strengthen youth clubs, teaching children to protect themselves against child sacrifice. The project will work with parents to provide safe spaces for their children to go while they work.

Honest communication is critical to changing social norms. Traditional healers will be encouraged to talk about their skills and denounce fake healers, who prey on children. Faith leaders, both Christian and Muslim, will help lead the efforts to stop this criminal act. The Amber Alert system will spread—being replicated in more communities.

It is too late for Trevor, whose mother will grieve for her lifetime, but the work World Vision is doing in Uganda will save other children—girls like Sharon whose life was saved by her brother and a community that knew exactly what to do.

This story was originally featured on blog.worldvision.org