Tag Archives: travel

Hope for the Future

4 Mar

Last week, Forbes Magazine came out with an article by Phil DeMuth called, “Death of the Big Charity” with the basic hypothesis that younger philanthropic givers are skeptical of large institutional charities.

DeMuth writes: “While their parents were happy to write elephantine checks to the “American Big Disease Association” or the “Big City Cultural Institution” or “Ye Olde Ivy College Foundation” or the “Mainline Church Denomination”, the kids (and by kids here I mean from age 18 through their 30s) have little interest in outfits like these”

Our name wasn’t mentioned but it could be inferred that Feed The Children falls in this category. We are a big box charity. In fiscal year 2013, we distributed 98 million pounds of food and supplies with a total value of $215 million to over 10 million individuals in the U.S.  Internationally we distributed 21 million pounds of food, medicine, and essentials valued at $129 million to children and families in the 23 countries we serve. Our reach is large. It would be easy for folks to be skeptical of us, especially those in the age category that DeMuth mentions and in women, the age of my wife as who wrote about her skepticism here.

But I don’t believe DeMuth’s argument is completely true. And it is because of young adults that I meet when I am traveling in the field, like the one I met recently, James Williams.

37a2c05James is a 20 something in Washington DC who several years ago had a dream of making a difference for families in the developing world. He could have allowed his age or fear of the unknown or even the fact that he was still in school to keep him from pursuing his dream but he didn’t. After a friend went on a trip to Africa and came back with a custom made hoodie, James and his soon to be business partner had an idea.

What if these hoodies could be made by master tailors in Kenya and sold in the US? They loved the hoodies and thought others would feel the same.

James took a solo trip back to Kenya and pursued the project. His dream was to positively impact the lives of families in need in a community. The project would be called Udu.

Yet, James knew his business would need a larger partner. Through mutual connections he began a conversation with our Regional Director in Kenya who told James about Feed The Children’s focus on livelihood development. James decided to partner with us. During his visit and through continued virtual conversations, James taught the women and men in our programs in Nairobi to make his product. Today, these hoodies are sold through James’ website and at our Feed The Children store in Oklahoma City. (From what I hear the hoodies are selling out like crazy!) The profits go back into the local community in Kenya. I couldn’t be prouder that James and Udu has a partnership with us.

I know James is not the only young person passionate about big global issues like poverty, hunger and economic development. I know there are other James out there who are already working with us and we just haven’t had the privilege of meeting yet. I know there are more amazing ideas and projects like Udu yet to be discovered.

Meeting people like James give me hope for the future of big charities being able to connect and be relevant to the next generation – we aren’t dead. We are thriving and growing and hoping that people like you will partner with us soon.

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What I Saw in Honduras and Nicaragua

12 Dec

imageLast week, the Feed The Children Christmas tour continued as Elizabeth and I packed our bags for Central America.

We went to see the field programs that seek to feed children, provide better opportunities for education and livelihood development– many of which I had seen before (in Honduras last December) and in Nicaragua (which I had not). We went to share Christmas gifts with the kids in our programs on behalf of the rest of the staff in Oklahoma. We went to do what we could to encourage the good work of our field staff in these countries.

[As an aside, Elizabeth when she travels with me pays her own way to go. She is so excited about the work and mission of Feed The Children that she currently volunteers her time to support the work of our communications department and build relationships with staff as I travel. She recently wrote about what this experience has been like for her in case you are curious here].

As we rose at early hours in the day and traveled down bumpy roads and drove up the hill seeking to not get stuck in the mud in other communities, I couldn’t help but think about how great our reach is an organization.

I know I share the statistic all the time that we feed over 352,000 kids every school day. It sounds like a nice number. It is a big number (but of course I think we could feed more). But, when you begin to see with your eyes what this work looks like as I have in back to back trips over the past three weeks on multiple continents, you can’t help but say wow.

In the past at FTC, we haven’t been as upfront as we should have been about our international field work. There has been more that we should have done to communicate the message of who we are and who we are serving to our staff in Oklahoma as well as our donors. But, it is a new day and a new conversation. And I am here to tell you, I am so pleased at what I see going on in Honduras and Nicaragua.

image copyI saw children in a Honduran community, where the major income producer is collecting trash for recycling, coming to school with TOMS shoes on them (distributed by FTC) eager to learn.

I saw children in FTC’s care at Casa del Nino (a boy’s home for ages 5-18) in Honduras who were among some of the most well-behaved boys I’ve ever met with hearts wide open to love and give back to those in need in their community.

I saw children in a Nicaraguan community with mothers who so desperately want a better life for their families that they’ll come to parenting class and spend time learning out to bake bread in our community development center that they can sell to their neighbors.

I saw so much poverty. I saw so many dirty faces. I saw so many babies who needed their diapers changed.

But, I saw so much hope: hope that our field staff is bringing to these communities everyday.

It’s hope that looks like a hug, going the extra mile to enroll one of the children in one of our programs, and the look of delight when a child gets a plate full of rice, vegetables, and chicken.

I know Christmas is days away– but for me, my heart is already full. I’ve had my Christmas. Honduras and Nicaragua were places that brought the icing on the cake that Kenya made for us weeks ago.

I’m so proud to lead this team. And, in you should be proud of one another too.

Kenya on My Mind

4 Dec

picstitchTwo days ago I returned from my second trip to Kenya since I’ve been President of Feed The Children. It was another wonderful adventure.

While there were countless business meetings and other official activities to attend, what I enjoyed most was the time spent with the children at the Dagoretti Children’s Center in Nairobi, an orphange we run for about 100 kids.

Different from our other programs around the world, the Kenyan kids are our own! Once these kids enter our care, they are ours for life (unless they are adopted or reunited with family somehow). Many of them were either dropped off at our doorstep or left in hospital rooms by parents who no longer felt they could take care of them as babies. Some lost their parents in terrorist attacks. Some of our toddlers were found in trash heaps. Many of them have special needs. All of them just want to be seen. As I greeted each one, what mattered was not the color of my skin or my country of my origin. Rather, what they wanted from me (and all their caregivers) is to know that they were loved.

As a received big hugs and warm smiles from babies, teens and even from our group home of young adult men, I couldn’t help but think to myself, “I have the best job in the world.” Though the circumstances that brought each of the children to the center were harsh and most of all unjust (every child deserves the right to grow up in a loving family!), to see each of the kids thrive was the spiritual jolt my soul needed.

It’s easy in a line of work like this, especially in an organization where transformation is the name of our game plan, to get bogged down and discouraged. It’s easy to forget why we work so hard. It’s easy to not say prayers of thanksgiving. The challenges can sometimes outweigh the feelings of blessings. However, as much as I went to be with and serve the kids last week in Kenya, I need to declare that they served me!

As I muse about all of this today with Kenya still on my mind, I am grateful for the encouragement I received in Kenya last week.

My wife and I often talked about what our eyes saw and our ears heard last week. We couldn’t help but think about the scripture where Jesus says, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.”

In Kenya last week, we saw so many of the faces of God. And for this, even as I’ve settled back into the harshness of winter in the US, I say thank you, Kenya.

Adventures in South Korea

8 Aug

This week, I’m traveling throughout South Korea with Corey Gordon, FTC’s Chief Marketing and Communications Officer and Matt Panos, FTC’s Chief Development Officer. It has been an exciting week of travel, meeting new friends and making connections that we hope will lead to further growth of our mission at Feed The Children.

looking into NK

When I was boarding the plane in Washington DC on Sunday, the one thing my wife said to me was: “Don’t go anywhere near North Korea!” But today, I have to admit I did. Sorry, honey.

Our hosts for this trip felt that any visit to South Korea was not complete unless we visited the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone)– the strip of land that runs across the Korean peninsula that serves as a divider between the countries of the north and the south along the 38th parallel. It is one of the most heavily militarized borders in the world. I never felt unsafe (rest assured).

We knew that we were approaching the DMZ and then right before our eyes we saw amusement park rides. Strange, but true. Why this border has been turned into a Disneyland want-to-be, I don’t know!

park

For the record, I want to state that you only get into problems of accidentally and illegally crossing into North Korea if you come over from the China side. For when you arrive close to the southern border, all you see is miles and miles of barbed wire fencing. And they advise you not to take pictures (though I captured this shot below).

fence

I have seen several walls like this in my life, dividing nations. In high school, I was a foreign exchange student in Germany and spent time at the Berlin Wall and in East Germany before reunification. Several years ago, my wife and I took I trip with some of her clergy colleagues to Israel and visited the concrete walls the separate Palestine from Israel and those that separate West and East Jerusalem.

DMZ

But what struck me today about visiting the DMZ was that the divide between South and North Korea was not a traditional concrete wall, but rather a fence. I told my colleague Matt, “Seeing this fence gives me hope that one day all of Korea will be united again. It’s just a fence, not a concrete wall after all.”

Matt laughed and said, “I always knew you were an optimist, but now I really know for sure!”

Yet, I truly believed what I said. A fence is a lot easier to tear down than a wall. Even in this place of so much political conflict, I saw hope.

For to go to the DMZ is to better understand the Korean narrative. It is to see how much the South Koreans long for the fences to come down. And it is to hear language such as “when” the reunification occurs, not “if.”

Being in my line of work– seeking to be a transformational and adaptive leader– I will need to remember days like this. Even in the bleakest of situations, there is always hope. Sometimes we even have to put amusement parks at sites of great pain to remind us that better times are coming. Sometimes we can rejoice that fences are not walls. Hope always springs eternal. Always.