Sunday, September 28, 2014


I had this idea as soon as I heard about Children International's #PovertyChallenge, and though I think the official challenge has ended, I wanted to go ahead and post anyway.

Many impoverished‬ families around the world take to dumps and landfills, seeking scraps of metal and plastic that they might sell for a bit of money. So for my poverty‬ challenge, I decided to see what it was like to feed myself with only the money I gleaned from digging through bags of trash for returnable cans.

It's gross‬. That was my first thought as I tore into that very first trash bag. It's wet and slimy, and it smells awful. I don't know *what* I'm putting my hands into. Moreover, it's dangerous: I encountered broken glass and bees as I dug through bag after bag. The labor isn't very rewarding--a few cans at a time add up slowly. I actually got used to the ‪smell‬ and the wetness after a while--it's only bothersome if something spills all over my clothes or shoes. I stopped caring about the people who ‪stare‬ at me elbow-deep in ‪trash‬, too. Well ... sorta. It bothers me less, anyway.

Most days, I only get half a bag of cans; I consider a single, full bag to be a great day. I become ridiculously excited when I discover new places to glean cans. There is competition for this limited commodity, after all, and certain areas are even "claimed turf" (today, the "senior canners" are not here; I had access to their sources in addition to my own!). So I get disproportionately excited; each can is only worth five cents, but I got to them *first*! I found these five in the trash cans in my break room. It made me think to check the trash cans in each jet bridge, where I found about a dozen more.

After two weeks of can hunting, it seems to have seeped into my subconscious, and I find myself peeking into every receptacle I pass. I have to remind myself not to dig through the trash in the airport terminal ... at least, not while it's full of passengers. The not digging is a special kind of agony, though. How many cans are in there, being wasted?! That could be tomorrow's lunch!

A full trash bag of cans is worth about eight dollars. Today was an exceptionally good day, due to the absence of the aforementioned "senior canners," and I came away with two and a half bags. With luck, the contents of these bags will yield $20. I can have sandwiches and salads for a week on this taking--I can even buy milk and eggs!

Before I can redeem them, I have to rinse them and attempt to un-crush any that were mangled--an endeavor that leads to sore and sometimes sliced fingers. Then I show up at the grocery store with my bag of cans. The machine only takes some of the brands; the rest must be hand-counted. The man at the counter is none too friendly. Even though I rinsed them, he still grumbles about the smell of my cans. People stare as I bring forth the quantity I've gleaned. "She must be homeless," they are thinking, "or a drug addict." They say nothing, but their thoughts are pained on their faces.

After the cans are counted, the man hands me a small slip of paper with the total. "Don't lose it!" I tell myself fiercely as I tuck it safely into a pocket. It's the only proof I have, the only fruit to show for my labor. I can now shop in the grocery store, paying for my carefully-chosen items with this small slip of paper. I may even be lucky enough to get a few cents back in change.

I cannot imagine trying to live every day like this...especially knowing that most days I'd only get three or four dollars. Sure, I could eat on that. But rent? Medical care? Shoes and clothes? And I'm just one person. How can you hope to support a family doing this?

Because I do not actually live in poverty, I am able to wait until I have a substantial collection of cans before I redeem them. This is about two weeks' worth (including tonight's exceptionally good yield). I'll get about $60 for them, I think. That's a lot, sure--it's great, in fact!--but I'm not actually trying to survive on that money. An income of $120 a month ... that's what some of my children's families earn. In some of their cases, it's more. Much, much more.

I would like to acknowledge my fiance Luke, who has been right there with me, elbow-deep in the trash bags, for this endeavor ... and who will be right there with me as I face the grumpy man at the counter with my truckload of cans tomorrow!

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Spotlight Child of the Week, 5/28/2014

How could I not feature Princess Shannen?! I would sponsor her myself in a heartbeat, but I absolutely cannot take on any new children at this time. This four-year-old cutie pie lives in the Philippines with her parents and one sibling. The family of four struggles to survive on a monthly income of only $90. Their home is constructed of concrete and corrugated metal. Princess Shannen is already attending school! She enjoys playing outdoors and dancing.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Idealized Poverty

Picture this: toiling parents, working diligently and under-compensated for their hard labor, struggling to put food on the table for their children. The family never indulges in wasteful things like television or soda and potato chips. Our children go to school, do chores, play in the streets, and at all times are mindful of their situation and brimming with gratitude for their sponsors. This makes them work twice as hard as their classmates, so they can one day rise above poverty! Siblings and cousins and grandparents all sacrifice even their meager means to help support this one miracle child, with the hope that the whole family will benefit. Sound familiar?

I think we as Sponsors sometimes have a particular view of what our children and their families are like. However, after years of sponsorship and some Facebook stalking of former sponsored children, I'm pretty sure that the reality is far from that idealized idea. I'm sure there are parents who eat first and feed their kids whatever is leftover. Siblings smoke cigarettes. There are nights our children don't want to complete their homework. They take selfies in bathroom mirrors and listen to music their parents wouldn't approve of. They consider themselves "emo" or "punk" or "prep" and have a clique of friends they pal around with. They kiss boys and, sometimes, things go too far. They are subject to peer pressure, and they aren't infallible. They are real people, and subject to the downfalls of being human just like we are.

Does this mean sponsorship is a waste of time? Of course not! Being human doesn't mean they're unworthy of support and the hope of a better life, and being impoverished doesn't mean they aren't allowed to enjoy frivolous things sometimes. We are sometimes prone to feeling that they should be doing this or that, that they should be grateful to a fault, that they should never waste a crumb or a second that could be spent toiling to improve their situation. But that's not life--that wouldn't be living.

Our children and their families are not robots.

Spotlight Child of the Week, 5/20/2014

Six-year-old Insha lives in India with her parents. They live in a concrete and brick house with illegally-tapped electricity and no running water. The family struggles to survive on an income of only $56 per month. Insha is enrolled in school. She enjoys playing with toys and dolls, and counts drawing among her talents. Insha speaks Urdu.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

New Photo of Nay-Nay

Nay-Nay's new annual photo appeared in my account today. It's the first one in which she's worn her hair down. It's gotten so long! She looks so different, and she's really starting to grow up fast. She's thirteen years old now, and beginning eighth grade next month.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Letters from Joyce and Nay-Nay!

After weeks and weeks of waiting (okay, that's probably an exaggeration...), I opened my mailbox yesterday and found a CI envelope! Inside was Cristine's annual photo and two letters!

Joyce wrote,

Dear Ms. Dillon,

Hello!!! How's your day? I hope that you and your family are in a good condition. This last February 28, we celebrated a Sr. Prom in our school. We are so happy on that occasion, we also dance and take a picture. By the way the color of my dress is red. It's simple but it's also beautiful. I choose red because that is one of my favorite colors. Me, my friends and my teacher are dancing together until end of occasion.

On my schooling it's also happy because my grades are high and good. Me, my friends and also my best friend are bonding together if we don't have a lesson and sometimes we have a group study at the house of my friend. This coming March 27, we graduate in our school. I'm so excited to be a college student because I found new friends  and classmates, but I will also miss my high school life when I graduate in our school.

I hope that you would like my letter. Thank you for supporting me. Hoping that you and your family are happy every day. GOD BLESS YOU and I LOVE YOU =)

With care,

She always writes such great letters! I wish I could see a photo of her in her prom dress--I bet she looked beautiful! I was excited all over again by the thought of her going to college. I can't wait to hear what she'll be studying and if she got a scholarship for her excellent grades!

Nay-Nay wrote:

Dear Ms. Dillon,

Good day to you!

Last month is my periodic test and distributing our class cards and I've got another top again. Proud to say that to you my sponsor. This coming February I prepare myself for many activities in Music, Arts, Physical Education, Health (MAPEH Club). I also prepare a Valentine letters for our teachers and my family.

Thank you for supporting me and sponsoring me. God bless you and your family. With you my sponsor I was able to study and more active in school. Thank you.

With kisses,
Chris Ann D.

At the bottom, instead of a drawing, she put a quote: "Education is the golden key to success."

I'm so proud of her for achieving top grades! Looks like I have another college student in the making. =)

Sunday, May 11, 2014

The Plot Thickens ...

CI replied to yesterday's Very Angry Lady, apologizing and saying they would address the issue. "Good," I thought. "It's all taken care of." But apparently that wasn't enough for her.

Ho-ho! Look, New York! How fortunate we are to have Ms. Sabrina Lamb to speak unsolicited on our behalf!

"Violate our privacy" ... by knocking on your door? Darling, I don't think that word means what you think it means!

I typed up a big, long response, but I didn't hit enter. What's the point? She's not going to come right and apologize for her antics, and it will probably only inflame the situation further.  So I took a screenshot of my answer instead: