Sponsoring children changes lives

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Children’s Home Society and Family Services (CHSFS) is showing how families that children in poverty by sponsoring them for a few dollars a year, can make as big a difference in their lives as adoption does for others.

In addition to remodeling or building infant care facilities in Vietnam, CHSFS facilitated a special sponsorship program of over $30,000 per year for several local orphaned children, who are now living with elderly grandparents or neighbors. The sponsorship program allows them to continue in school as well as help feed the family members.

Cari Sheley, CHSFS Sponsorship Director, helps to match donors with children overseas. For just $200 a year, per month a child can be safe, fed and in school. The purpose of the program is to provide them with monthly support so that they do not have to quit school in order to work to feed themselves.

“We have many children waiting to get into our program and are always looking for new sponsors,” said Sheley. “Our goal is to have more kids (ages 5 to 18) put into sponsorship programs and have opportunities to go to the summer camp.”

The program is currently able to help 400 kids. They would like to increase that to at least 600 next year. The kids are in poverty, sometimes living on their own, and need guidance. They are looked after by social workers to help them along.

The sponsorship program began in 1996, when donor and Minneapolis businessman Gary Fink came to CHSFS to discuss the idea. The program started with 40 children and has grown to over 380 children. The children are orphans living with a relative or neighbor, although many live on their own.

Gary Fink and his wife JoAnn sponsor 60 children between the two of them. They have provided many children with the means to start small businesses. They provided for one child to get a tonsillectomy, another for Hep B medication, and another to a child’s mother for breast cancer medication.

“Its simple really, after the devastation and destruction that the United States did to Vietnam during the Vietnam war, we have the moral obligation to take care of the people there, especially the children,” said Fink. “It allows us to in some small way to give back to a country where the effects of the United States and its war time atrocities (agent orange) continue to effect the people and children of Vietnam even today.”

CHSFS is now working with kids in four provinces. They are building schools and arrange for scholarships to attend. They do what they can to improve the living conditions for the families. A small stipend can help a family living in a hut with a dirt floor, make the improvements that lead to healthier children and a stable home.

The stipends also help feed the family and bring in those few extra dollars that will help prevent the need from keeping kids out of school to work or go looking for food.

“We have many donors who send their children gifts above and beyond their monthly sponsorship, children have received bikes, pigs, rabbits etc.,” said Cari Sheley, Humanitarian Aid Coordinator, CHSFS.

The agency covers all of the administrative costs. The sponsorship money goes to the kids. A few more dollars may help a teen start a business, such as raising small animals or a repair shop. Within a year or two a child that was in poverty will be a skilled laborer and self-sufficient.

The first groups of sponsored children are now graduating from secondary school and many of them have an opportunity to go to college or technical schools. This is another sponsorship area that the organization is starting.

Another program sponsor, Leslie Pilgrim, said that he looked at several nonprofit organizations to consider for his charitable donations. He was reassured that donations to the CHSFS Vietnam Children Sponsorship Program is all going directly to the benefit of the sponsored child.

“I have great confidence in CHSFS and this program, that the money I contribute goes directly to support my sponsored child,” he said. “I am amazed at what a difference we can make in their lives for only $150 a year.”
Each summer the children are invited to a summer camp as a reward for staying in school. The camp is for one week of fun, full tummies and a chance to be with other children like themselves. They play camp games as well as have trade classes, sex education classes and an art class.

The camp is funded thru private donors from CHSFS. Many sponsors send money for the camp as well as several fundraisers are held.

“Gary and JoAnn Fink pay for half of the summer camp,” said Sheley. “They have been huge supporters of the Vietnam sponsorship program as well as the summer camp.”

Hue Pham, Vietnam and Thailand Program Manager, CHSFS, said Vietnam is becoming a model for sponsorship programs, and can show that it is really working.

There are cultural factors that make it necessary for an in-country staff to work with kids who are very shy and react differently to the sponsors than would their American counterparts. Pham travels back and forth from Minnesota to Vietnam every eight weeks to oversee the modest program staff for the sponsorship program, and also assists American families that come to Vietnam to adopt children through CHSFS.

At least one parent will be required to visit the country about 30 days after a referral is finalized. This will require a stay of about three weeks. They will visit the provincial care center where their child is living, in either Ben Tre, Binh Thuan, Vinh Long or Phu Tho provinces. During this trip, parents receive their child through a “giving and receiving” ceremony, and then travel to Hanoi to finalize the adoption.

Most of the children awaiting adoption range in age from 3 to 12 months at placement. In Vietnam children are often orphaned or relinquished at birth due to poverty, cultural stigmas attached to unwed mothers. The children are cared for at provincial care centers. A portion of the adoption fees to CHSFS helps to support the centers to refurbish nurseries and donating goods, medicines and other humanitarian aid.

Hue Pham accompanies the adoptive parents throughout the process and escorts them to their official appointments, serves as a translator, and even a sightseeing guide when there is time.

CHSFS also provides adoption services with Asia programs in South Korea, China, Thailand and India. They also find homes for children from Russia, Kazakhstan, Ethiopia, Colombia, Guatamala, Ecuador, Peru, and Honduras.

For more information call 651-646-6393 or visit online at www.chsfs.org.

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